In Darrington, STEM branches out into natural world

DARRINGTON — Taryn Tamez, 16, knows how to measure the clarity and flow of river water. She can also recover safely from falling into a river while rafting.

The Darrington teen learned both skills during a whitewater rafting trip Friday.

The excursion marked the beginning of a new Darrington program geared toward hands-on, outdoor education in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

The Darrington Youth Outdoor STEM Pilot Project grew out of Oso mudslide recovery efforts, providing an opportunity for Darrington-area students to learn about local resources and career opportunities, project leader Oak Rankin said.

On Friday, they studied water quality in the Sauk River, learned basic whitewater rafting and guide skills, and talked about the impacts of the Oso mudslide on water resources and habitats.

The goal is to establish STEM activities that directly relate to Darrington’s natural resources and the town’s economic opportunities, especially in forestry and outdoor recreation. Rankin hopes to incorporate programs into the curriculum at Darrington schools by fall 2015. This summer, and the upcoming school year, are part of a trial run.

“It was cool to learn things I thought I knew but I didn’t really know much about,” Tamez said. “I think the STEM program would be a great thing to start in Darrington schools.”

Cooper Young, 14, agreed that hands-on education would be valuable during the school year. He hasn’t decided what he wants to do after high school, but the rafting trip gave him a chance to learn about some of his options.

“It was a lot of whitewater and a lot of rafts,” Young said. “It was really fun. I would love to do it again.”

The 21 students on the rafting trip were selected because they each contributed to Oso relief efforts, mostly helping with the collection of food, supplies and money.

The programs’s second excursion, a trip to Diablo Dam, is scheduled for Aug. 15 with a different group of teens.

Students do not pay to participate in the program. Organizers are looking to find a long-term source of funding, Rankin said. Current partners include North Counties Family Services, Adventure Cascades, Washington State University Forestry Extension and a consortium of other outdoor recreation and conservation volunteers.

“I think this program will give the kids a chance to connect with this place,” said Brian Pernick, owner of Adventure Cascades. “A lot of kids grow up in Darrington thinking there’s nothing to do and no opportunities for them.”

Knowledge of natural resource management is especially important in rural communities, Pernick said.

He has guided raft tours of the Sauk River for six years and opened Cascade Adventures three years ago. Pernick said he’s wanted to create some kind of outdoor education program for local students since he started the business.

“Since the slide, there’s been a lot of cooperation,” he said.

That cooperation gave Rankin and Pernick the chance to pitch the STEM program idea.

“We’re working to find out what works and what doesn’t, and what engages and excites students,” Rankin said. “Just getting children outdoors and learning has a huge impact.”

This summer’s projects are for 13- to 18-year-olds. Rankin hopes to add activities later this year for younger children, such as nature walks and plant identification.

Tamez said her favorite part of last week’s rafting trip was when the water slowed after the rapids and she could look around at the hills, trees and wildlife. She saw her hometown in a new way.

“Many of us had never gone on the rafting trip before and we’ve lived here practically our whole lives,” she said.

Pernick has high hopes for students who participate in the new program.

“Hopefully they’ll fall in love with their own backyard,” he said.

Kari Bray: 425-330-3439, kbray@heraldnet.com

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