West Coast kids learn all about bats during a field trip led by Raincoast Educators to Tonquin Trail. (Raincoast Education Society photo)

West Coast kids learn all about bats during a field trip led by Raincoast Educators to Tonquin Trail. (Raincoast Education Society photo)

Popular Tofino-Ucluelet Field School program in dire need of more funding

Raincoast Education Society says business donations lost due to COVID are not coming back

Raincoast Education Society’s (RES) Field School program is in dire need of financial support.

The society’s executive director Mark Maftei says even though the demand for Field School has increased, it’s been a struggle to keep the program running.

“My Tofino Field School instructor has given me notice that she is not going to come back in September and I’m not sure how I will replace her,” he said.

“Now to hire a new person, I’m just worried, based on our funding picture, that I might not be able to hire another instructor. Obviously there is a huge demand for the program, but I think there is this misunderstanding about how the program is funded.”

The RES has been running the popular Field School program for the past seven years in Tofino, three years in Ucluelet and this summer, it embarks on its first year of programming for children in Ahousaht.

Funding for the program, which reaches upwards of 500 kids a year, comes primarily from business donations.

“We’ve lost a couple of really big donors in the last couple years and we are not having much success in replacing that money,” said Maftei, noting that the program costs roughly $110,000 a year to run and they do about 200 field trips.

READ: CBT creates giving portal for Tofino and Ucluelet non-profits

Dani Stone is the acting principal for Wickaninnish Community School. She said her entire student body from Kindergarten to Grade 7 attends RES Field School.

“I think there has been a bit of a misconception that the school has paid for that program. We’ve just been the lucky recipients of this amazing program,” said Stone, adding that charging parents an extra fee for the program is just not an option.

“I don’t know that families would be able to do that and we operate on a (mindset of), ‘if we can’t do it for everyone, we can’t do it at all’. To be honest, our school budget is not very much so the school is just not in a financial situation to pay for that sort of programming,” she said.

While Long Beach Lodge commits $20,000 annually to the program and the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust (CBT) provided a $20,000 Vital Grant for the Ucluelet Field School when it first began in 2018, Rebecca Hurwitz executive director of the CBT says it’s difficult to access grants for ongoing programs and salaries once they are successful.

“The CBT, like many funders, doesn’t have the scale of funding needed to provide sustained or multi-year grants. We focus CBT funding on new programs and research with the aim that our contributions are evidence of support from the community, which can be leveraged. In the case of some past outdoor education programs, we’ve been able to provide pilot funding that has led to ongoing support from the school district,” Hurwitz wrote in an email.

RES Field School Educators work with teachers to adapt the B.C. science curriculum to an outdoor setting. Highlights of the Field School include trips to the Thornton Creek Hatchery, beach seines, working with cultural educators, and visits to Radar Hill to learn about geology.

“It’s pretty cool for a kid to get to do school outside,” said Maftei.

Stone calls the RES Field School a locally kept secret.

“It’s helping an entire generation of kids to care about the biosphere and this amazing place that we live. It would be a real shame if the children that grew up here didn’t get that opportunity. I know it’s hard to ask businesses for one more thing, but my hope is that someone will step up to work with the RES and keep it going,” Stone told the Westerly in a phone call interview.

As of April 1, the RES office has re-located to the Ucluelet Community Centre. Anyone interested in supporting the Field School is encouraged to visit raincoasteducation.org.



nora.omalley@westerlynews.ca

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