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Movement on to save sixth-grade camp

When April Gallagher’s daughter heard the tradition of sixth-grade camp would be part of the Enumclaw School District’s $2.1 million in reductions, the Kibler Elementary School fifth-grade student wrote a letter to Superintendent Mike Nelson.

In her neat printing on lightly-lined notebook paper, she asked if options were available, like fundraising.

Her mother, impressed with her daughter’s pluck and hoping to instill important life lessons, asked the same questions and found she was not alone. Gallagher is now organizing a group in the rescue of sixth-grade camp.

More than 20 parents met April 14 in the Enumclaw Middle School library and again Thursday to outline a plan to save what for four decades has become a rite of passage for Enumclaw sixth-grade students.

Camp is more than an outdoor science classroom, Nelson said, it’s an opportunity for the students who have come from the district’s five elementary schools to build relationships at the beginning of their middle school experience and fosters lifelong memories. It’s also become expensive through the years.

Nelson said camp was part of the district’s reductions because the costs have gone up regularly and substantially in the past five years. Last year, even with parents picking up $144 of their students’ cost, the district spent more than $60,000 to send more than 300 sixth-grade students to camp for a week.

Gallagher said response to a survey noted support for a shorter, and less expensive, camp experience that would be covered entirely by parents and fundraising.

Meeting leaders proposed a switch from the week-long format of the past to a three-day, two-night program with students from Thunder Mountain and Enumclaw middle schools attending the same week. The program would be set up so half the students attend camp Monday, Tuesday and a half day Wednesday, while the other half start their experience with a half day Wednesday and finish up Thursday and Friday.

Organizers figure if they can raise $30,000 and each family paid $100 for their student to attend, they’d cover the more than $60,000 to keep the program alive.

That figure includes funding scholarships for those students in financial need. Last year, Gallagher said camp organizers provided approximately 14 full scholarships and eight partial ones. Gallagher is encouraging families who can give more to the program to do so to help cover the scholarship program for those who can’t afford it.

Those funds cover food and lodging, camp staff, 24-hour nursing care and salary for the district’s teachers who also attend.

According to EMS Principal Steve Rabb, who organizes camp for the district, due to deadlines, the district forfeited its designated week at Camp Seymour on the peninsula. Before the meeting, Rabb checked with the camp’s director and said one of those week’s in October is still available, but a 15 percent non-refundable deposit would be due by the end of May. By July, the district would have to make a solid commitment or risk loosing a chunk of money.

There’s a fundraising plan brewing.

If organizers and the district allow parents to prepay a portion of their $100 to commit to the program and begin fundraising immediately and continue through the summer and fall, they believe camp will continue.

Buono Coffee has stepped forward. The family-owned and operated Wilkeson business will give the group packages of its fresh-roasted coffee to sell and 50 percent of the profit. The group is also looking at selling See’s Candies to get started.

Buono Chief Operating Officer and Enumclaw High alumni Gary Sainati, who gave a short presentation to the group, was confident the group could sell enough coffee to meet the initial payment deadline.

Anyone wishing more information or who would like to help, can contact Gallagher at 253-740-5750.

Enumclaw Middle School teacher and camp organizer Will Stuenkel was thankful to see the big show of support for the program and the push to continue it.

“It gives me a lot of confidence camp isn’t slipping away,” he said.

Reach Brenda Sexton at bsexton@courierherald.com or 360-802-8206.

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