The William S. Schmidt Outdoor Education Center in Brandywine, which had been slated for closure earlier this year because of cuts to the school system’s budget, is positioned to remain open and at full staffing for the next school year.
The Prince George’s County Council allocated an extra $300,000 to Prince George’s County Public Schools to fund the embattled outdoor center at about $1 million in fiscal 2012, the same level as the current fiscal year. The Board of Education had previously increased funding from zero to $700,000, which would have kept the center open but cut two or three full-time positions and pushed transportation and overnight costs to individual schools and families.
The Board of Education has to approve the budget with the additional money provided by the County Council, which it plans to vote on at its meeting June 20. Board member Donna Hathaway Beck (Dist. 9), whose district includes the center, was confident the board will approve the funds and said she was pleased with the council’s decision.
“I had four kids that went to Camp Schmidt, so I lived the Camp Schmidt experience,” Beck said. “My kids are all older now, but that’s one of the events in their school history that they all remember vividly and fondly. ... And it’s not just my children who thought the Camp Schmidt experience changed their lives.”
The Schmidt Center provides an overnight environmental education program for fifth-graders, and also serves as the environmental education department for county schools. More than 6,000 students attended Camp Schmidt over the course of the 2010-2011 school year.
When the program’s funding was first in jeopardy, supporters and alumni of Camp Schmidt set up a Facebook group titled “Save Camp Schmidt,” which as of Monday had more than 600 members.
Supporters came out in force to speak on behalf of the outdoor center at a county council hearing May 2.
Representatives for Camp Schmidt were unable to comment on the latest development because the increase in funding is still pending Board of Education approval.
County Councilman Obie Patterson (D-Dist. 8) of Fort Washington said that while the overnight expedition allows students to experience nature first-hand, it also instills environmental awareness at an early age.
“It’s important to start early to get young people focusing on the environment,” he said. “We should get them so that they’re not throwing trash down on the ground, and get them more involved in recycling.”
County Councilman Mel Franklin (D-Dist. 9) of Upper Marlboro, whose district includes the outdoor center, said the strong grass-roots support for the camp played a large role in shaping the council’s decision.
“The parents and students really showed the face of Camp Schmidt they showed the face of those who benefitted from Camp Schmidt when they were young, and now have children are benefitting from Camp Schmidt now,” he said.
County Council Chairwoman Ingrid Turner (D-Dist. 4) of Bowie said the council wanted to ensure the overnight program remained free for all fifth-graders as well as maintain the quality of the program through its staffing.
“You can learn so much in books, but actually to be able to see nature, to see a frog, it’s so firsthand,” Turner said. “It comes to life when you get to go out there and see it. It makes kids more excited about learning.”