Island students thriving at Orcas Elementary School

For four hours once a week, Orcas Elementary kindergarteners bundle up and head outside for a different kind of learning.

Since September, the students have been participating in Wednesdays in the Woods at Camp Orkila. It is led by naturalists Cody Beebe and Kimberly Worthington, who create the curriculum in collaboration with teacher Lisa Jenkins.

“We wanted it to be fun but also educational,” said Elementary Principal Lorena Stankevich. “They’ve done a great job of making it related and connected.”

Teacher and parent Mandy Randolph approached Stankevich with the idea of taking the kindergarteners outdoors for time on the beaches and in the forest of Camp Orkila.

“I really wanted to get it coordinated with what we are already doing so we wouldn’t have to fundraise for it separately,” Stankevich said.

Every week moms and dads join their little ones on the excursions. Orkila doesn’t charge the school for running the program on its grounds.

In order to keep the kids warm enough, parents decided weatherproof suits were needed. Local Goods donated 100 bags of coffee, which art teacher Brook Meinhardt helped the kids decorate with special labels. They are for sale at Orcas Elementary for $10 and all proceeds go toward the cost of the suits.

In addition, Nanette Pyne, a former islander who now lives in New Mexico, knitted and donated 30 bright hats for each student to wear.

“When the hats arrived we were shocked to see that each hat was beautifully unique, just like our children,” said Randolph. “The children were excited to choose the perfect hat for themselves. They drew pictures of their hats and made a thank you book for Nanette, the kind stranger from New Mexico!”

Back indoors, kindergarten through fifth-graders have been helping transform their art into wall-size creations in the boys’ and girls’ restrooms.

Stankevich was mulling how to address an ongoing problem of graffiti in the bathrooms when she heard of another school that solved the issue by painting student art on the stalls.

Thanks to funding from an anonymous donor, the school hired art instructor Robyn Gordon, who is also part of the Art for Orcas Kids program, to oversee the project. Elementary kids submitted 8 1/2 by 11-inch drawings and paintings that feature inspirational words and images. Staff then sanded and primed the stall doors and walls and kids painted a large version of their art on the surface. Some of the colorful, happy images were created by Gordon and feature reminders about positive, safe behavior.

The downstairs restrooms are nearly done, and soon all of the participating students’ names will be painted on the walls as well. Next up will be transforming the upstairs facilities.

“The student art in the bathrooms is about creating a school culture where everyone believes this is their school,” said Stankevich. “Student ownership is so important. I am proud to be a part of Orcas Island Elementary School, and I want everyone else to feel proud to be a part as well — students, staff, parents and our community.”

Island students thriving at Orcas Elementary School
Principal Lorena Stankevich with some of the student art.

Principal Lorena Stankevich with some of the student art.