DALLAS — Whitworth Elementary School’s fourth-grade class end-of-the-year field trip to Astoria is some students’ first time seeing the ocean.
After 13 years, the overnight trip has become a tradition, and, for more than a few students, more than an educational excursion.
“Some of our kids haven’t seen the ocean before. Some of them haven’t made s’mores. Some of them haven’t been camping. Some of them have never been away from home for a night,” said fourth-grade teacher Gretchen Schmoyer. “It’s a life experience. It really is for a lot of our kids.”
About 200 students and volunteer parent-chaperons attend every year.
“All fourth-graders have the opportunity to go,” Schmoyer said.
Schmoyer and Whitworth teacher Kellie Ackerman plan and organize the trip. They don’t turn students away who want to go because they can’t pay, but with rising costs, that is becoming more difficult. Thirteen years ago, the cost was $40. This year, they are asking students to fundraise $80 to go.
“We have rising costs with accommodations that have kind of skyrocketed,” Ackerman said. “We try to keep costs down as much as we can.”
Businesses have become sponsors, and individuals have made donations to help students, but the pair believe the field trip will need more help in future years.
They also believe it’s important to take all students who want to attend, and are asking the community for help.
“We don’t turn kids away if they can’t pay. We’ve always figured out a way to make it happen,” Schmoyer said. “That’s a little bit what we are concerned about for next year is how to sustain when the costs are still rising on us.”
The schedule is packed with visits to the Astoria Column, Battery Russell compound, Fort Clatsop, and the maritime museum. If there is time, the group takes walking tours to see the famous sea lions lounging on the docks, the canneries on the water front, and a trip to a fish hatchery.
Students spend the night at the KOA campground in Warrenton, where they can splash around in a pool, play miniature golf, and play on the playground that includes a trampoline.
Evan Lockwood, now a fifth-grader at Whitworth, had not been camping before last year’s field trip.
“My favorite part was going to the Astoria Column and going to the camp,” he said. “It was the first time. It was pretty cool.”
The Astoria Column is a 125-foot column built in 1925 that guests can climb to an observation deck. Standing 600 feet above sea level, those who climb the spiral staircase can see Young’s Bay and view the Coast Range.
Scenes from the state’s history wrap around the outside of the column.
“I like how they designed the outside. That was really cool,” Evan said. “I think it was about the past of Oregon. Oregon’s history.”
Students who climb to the top get to launch airplanes made of balsa wood to see how far they will fly.
Kyra Weeks, also a fifth-grader, said her experience with that didn’t go as planned last year. Her plane broke apart before she could toss it off the top.
“I just have it pinned as a souvenir on the bulletin board,” Kyra said.
She was much more impressed with Fort Clatsop, a replica of the fort Lewis and Clark’s expedition built to spend the winter of 1805-06.
“It was amazing to see how it was set up,” Kyra said. “That was pretty cool.”
Tour guides at the fort dress as those on the expedition would have and fire a flintlock rifle like those used on the historic trek.
“With our social studies focus being a lot on Oregon history, the Columbia River, Lewis and Clark, and the Oregon Trail — even the fur-trading companies up in Astoria — it just really ties well with our curriculum,” Schomoyer said.
Trip-goers experience a different part of Oregon history at Battery Russell, part of Fort Stevens near Warrenton.
Students sell raffle tickets to raise money for the trip, which is May 30-31 for the first group and June 6-7 for the second group. This year’s drawing is Wednesday, (today), but there’s still time to donate or sponsor a student.
“We do things throughout the year to try to keep costs down for the kids, and we cut what we can, but we just feel it’s such a valuable experience for them,” Schmoyer said.
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