On a mild spring morning, a group of fifth-graders walk silently, one by one, on a wooded trail winding through alders, maples and Douglas firs to a place called Mac's Pond. Every 200 feet or so, they stop where index cards place along the trail give them something to do: Read a quotation, smell a flower, touch the trunk of a tree, look up, listen. As the group arrives at the pond, a bald eagle swoops down on the still water. The students break their silence and erupt with excitement. "Whoa!" they say, elbowing each other and jumping up and down. "Did you see that?"
This is a normal day of class at IslandWood, a 255-acre environmental learning center on Bainbridge Island, near Seattle. But for most of the students here for the typical four-day stay, it couldn't be more different from their daily lives. IslandWood hosts students from a variety of area schools, but the majority of children who come to the campus attend urban, underserved schools—schools that lack the resources of those in more affluent communities. More than half of the students here receive scholarships from IslandWood for their stay (funding that is distributed based on the percentage of free-and-reduced-price lunch recipients at the students' regular schools).
"It's not unusual for children who come here to tell us they've never been in the woods, never stepped on the beach and never fully seen the stars," says Ben Klasky, IslandWood's president and CEO. "They are often a…
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