Opinion

Exploring the wonders outside

What could be better than digging up worms in the garden and taking each of them on a special ride in your swing? But it is just another day in the life of my 3-year-old — simple pleasure exploring the wonders outside.

Times like these get me excited about the opportunities for our kids through the new nature-education “Nature Vision” course and field trip offerings available through Mercer Island Parks and Recreation and Mercer Island preschools. With topics such as “Cool Camouflage,” “Toad-ally Amphibians,” “Spider Hunt,” “Bug Safari” and “Nosy about Nests,” the upcoming programs are sure to delight your child with this hands-on approach to learning in our parks. “Binoculars on Birds,” a nature walk for families through Luther Burbank Park guided by a Nature Vision naturalist, is one of the first course offerings for families, scheduled for this Saturday, March 29, from 3 to 4 p.m. The courses are designed to be age-appropriate, affordable and fun for kids and families to enjoy the natural areas in our Mercer Island Parks system.

Islanders Dorli Mason and Judy Roan began the effort to design nature programs to educate the community, especially the children, about the unique wetlands in the park where there are regular sightings of Great Blue Herons, Bald Eagles, ducks, Red-winged Blackbirds, turtles, beavers and other wildlife.

The Mercer Island Preschool Association joined with the Friends of Luther Burbank Park, Mercer Island Parks and Recreation, and others tasked with developing a nature program. By aligning with Nature Vision, a local nonprofit organization with a staff of naturalists, we were able to begin delivering our first offerings this year. The Mercer Island Parks and Recreation Spring/Summer Guide offers five new terrific programs for families. In addition, Mercer Island Parks and Recreation in partnership with Mercer Island Preschool Association and Nature Vision launched a combo classroom-field trip pilot program for Mercer Island preschools this spring. Each course includes a one-hour classroom course followed by a one-hour field trip at Luther Burbank Park, guided by a naturalist.

Our kids should experience simple pleasures like watching bugs climb up a blade of grass, building a fort in the woods or going on a “snipe” hunt, so that they can share these same simple pleasures with their children one day.

To sign up for “Birds and Binoculars” on March 29, register online at www.myparksandrecreation.com or call (206) 275-7609. The cost is $11 per child with parent; $5 for sibling. Binoculars are provided.

The 120th session of the 60th Washington State Legislature

By Judy Clibborn, Fred Jarrett
Island Forum

During the past several years, we have found that working as a team of state representatives from the 41st District is the most efficient and effective approach in Olympia. As always, we worked together on your priorities, focusing on education and transportation. And this year we also worked to move plans to replace the SR 520 floating bridge to the top of everyone’s priority list.

We were both thrilled to hear Gov. Gregoire announce that the new SR 520 bridge will be completed in 2014 — a full four years earlier — and will be $100 million to $200 million cheaper. This additional savings and sped-up schedule will help keep the price of any tolling proposal affordable and will start relieving congestion sooner.

We also passed legislation (HB 3096) declaring that the new SR 520 bridge will be a six-lane bridge, made up of four general purpose lanes and two HOV/transit lanes. This legislation reflects the successful negotiations that have taken place between communities on both sides of the lake and keeps the project moving forward.

Improving highway safety around the state was also a focal point of the session. Case in point, U.S. Highway 2 — one of the state’s more dangerous stretches of road. This year, we approved $4 million worth of immediate safety improvements, hired six new state troopers to patrol the highway, and set aside $10 million for the US Highway 2 Safety Coalition and Department of Transportation put toward an additional project.

Higher education is another important issue where we made good progress. Our state’s colleges and universities are vital to the state’s overall economic health. Ever-tightening budgets and increasing enrollment demand requires us to look at new ways of planning and to take on new initiatives to make sure we are meeting future workplace demands.

Currently, the state uses a two-year timeframe to plan for our higher education system. It has always seemed that a longer period would allow for better planning and funding of higher education, and after six years of work we were able to pass new legislation (HB 2641) to start longer-term planning. This legislation establishes a six-year agreement between the state and four-year colleges and universities to ensure that goals, priorities and outcomes set by the legislature, and expected by taxpayers, are being met.

Advances were also made in the constant quest to improve education at the K-12 level. Last year, we created a legislative task force (on which Rep. Jarrett serves as an alternate delegate) to revise the formulas that allocate K-12 funding. This year, we passed legislation (SB 6879) to direct the task force to report its findings and recommendations by the end of the year to the entire legislature. We will work next year to act on those findings.

We voted to take immediate steps to improve overall learning, especially in mathematics. Revising the math standards to ensure they align with the skills and knowledge students need in today’s complex world (SB 6534); beginning the process for adoption of an online math curriculum for grades K-12 (HB 2598); and modifying the WASL to save funds that will be better used in the classroom (HB 3166).

Next year will bring new issues and new challenges. We will put together a tolling plan to help pay for the SR 520 bridge, and we will look at new ways to improve education at all levels. And next year, like this year, we work as a team, efficiently and effectively. We appreciate you affording the opportunity to serve as your legislative team in Olympia.

Island residents, Reps. Fred Jarrett and Judy Clibborn represent the 41st District in the Washington State Legislature.

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