We have had a few questions as to whether we will be able to offer scholarships for our pilot Forest School Kindergarten for Fall 2016. For the first year, we do not expect to do this for the program. We want to be transparent as to why and what we hope future years will bring as to scholarship awards for our Forest School.
At Trackers, we care deeply about equality in access to education as well as providing a sustainable livelihood for our staff educators. We work to provide livelihood for our instructors to continue to offer what we believe is their important work. Running a program such as the Trackers Forest School, which lies far outside the normal education system, is a challenging undertaking. It will require meeting significant expenses not found in many programs, including how often we travel to wild spaces and the very small class size the activities require. Additionally, our largest expense has always been supporting the continued livelihood of our exceptional staff who dedicate their lives to teaching.
To our knowledge, Trackers has more full-time, year-round staff than any other outdoor education program in our area. Based on American Camp Association salary data, we pay our instructional staff above average for the field in our regions and our administrative staff lower than average—striving to always make our compensation more egalitarian. We believe everyone on our team is vital to our success. We also do not pay sub-minimum wage. This is an unfortunate loophole in Oregon law that allows camps to pay their instructional staff far less than actual minimum wage. While it does affect our budget, we believe we are better paying our people a full wage as we work to support the livelihood of our thoughtful community of educators.
We also support the idea of a $15 per hour minimum wage. In all honesty, not all our current hourly wages meet that criteria. We work hard to budget for and look forward to meeting this goal sooner rather than later, which can be challenging in an field that includes other camps who use sub-minimum wages for their staff.
Another primary area of expense is the preservation and stewardship of land, and the travel costs incurred in transporting students to these places. In many public parks you cannot make a campfire, build a shelter, harvest wild plants, do many wilderness crafts, or even climb a tree. We cultivate wild spaces specifically to provide these opportunities for all of our students while also conserving these unique lands from development. We consider our relationship with the lands we care for as a gift: One we can share with the greater community.
To support equality of access to wild spaces kids can actually use, we consistently donate use of this land to other local parent groups such as all inclusive Baden Powell Service Association (with the 55th Cascadia) and different organizations and schools.
These are conscious choices we have made to maintain the quality of our programs and the livelihood of the staff we serve. We understand that a consequence of these choices is sometimes a tuition level that is not immediately available to everyone. Through our scholarship programs, we work hard to make what we do more accessible by increasing our total scholarships each year. Our summer camps, homeschool courses, after school and apprenticeship programs have offered many full to partial scholarships based on thoughtful evaluation of individual applicant’s income and need. However, differing from these well-established programs, the Forest School is a pilot class. With the intentionally small group of students the first year, there will be less room for scholarships until the school and student body grows.
On a personal note, when I was younger, my parents could never afford to send me to camp. So I understand, empathize and greatly advocate for access while still dealing with the realities of supporting the work of our staff and ensuring the opportunities we provide are sustainable and can grow to reach more people. We ask for the support and patience of all our parents and our greater community as the program grows in its capacity so we can develop such a scholarship program for our Kindergarten. Once the program forms a strong foundation, its scholarship opportunities will grow just as our camp scholarships have.
We also encourage parents to take advantage of our camp scholarship programs. Based on feedback from families, staff and community observations, we have adjusted our income criteria and now provide a greater number of larger awards for camp programs (often 50%-100% of camp tuition). The awards are carefully distributed based on income and need.
We’re now receiving scholarship applications for Summer 2016.
Tony Deis, Founder