SAMI students make a difference in Point Defiance Park

Fall Park Service Day featured both orientation and stewardship opportunities

When the Science and Math Institute (SAMI) welcomed its first high school students in 2009, its location in Point Defiance Park was heralded as a boundless laboratory and inspirational setting for student inquiry.

Since SAMI opened, all students have taken part in an introductory orientation to the park. Each fall, not long after the first day of school, small groups of students visit key park sites, learn the significance of each, take in a bit of history and hear how their presence is a benefit to the park and our community.

This September, for the first time, SAMI students got to do a bit more to solidify their role as park patrons. On Friday, Sept. 22, the entire SAMI student body, about 490 students, participated in SAMI Park Service Day, a two-hour afternoon event.

“This was an opportunity for us to really have the students become more invested in the park itself,” said Phedra Redifer, regional parks attractions manager. “It was a way for students to give back to the park in a deeper and more connected way.”

While Metro Parks Tacoma staff members delivered brief introductions to about 180 freshmen, older students took part in stewardship activities and service projects throughout the park.

Armed with gloves and litter bags, they removed trash from areas such as Owen Beach, the park perimeter, parking lots, restrooms and public areas. Under the supervision of Metro Parks staff members, other groups of students helped upgrade trails by removing organic matter and spreading gravel. In the botanical gardens, students weeded, raked pathways, removed debris, and pulled spent annual blooms from flower beds.

While the work went on, freshmen briefly visited the rose garden, the Pagoda, the Point Defiance Marina, the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium and the Fort Nisqually Living History Museum. At each site, a Metro Parks staff member presented a brief introduction, including specific recommendations about appropriate student conduct.

For example, at the Pagoda students were greeted by rental sales specialist Daniel Mero, who explained that the building dates back to 1914. Inspired by Japanese architecture, its remaining marble fixtures hark back to its beginning as a luxurious street car station. SAMI students share use of the Pagoda at times with private rentals such as business meetings and other special events. As part of Mero’s presentation, he underscored the importance of quiet in both the Pagoda and the adjacent Japanese garden, where visitors find a serene refuge.

One of the goals of the event is to help students understand that they have a role to play in park stewardship. “We all benefit from SAMI’s presence,” Redifer said. “We see the students as our ambassadors.”

“It was great,” said SAMI instructor Sara Siemens-Luthy, who organized the event. She would like to do something similar in the spring. “The hope is to build a cohesive plan for students to feel they have some part in maintaining this resource that we call our school.”


Students began classes at the Environmental Learning Center the first week of October, 2017 Image courtesy Tacoma School District
Students began classes at the Environmental Learning Center the first week of October, 2017
Image courtesy Tacoma School District


In other SAMI news, students began classes in the new Environmental Learning Center the first week of October. The Center is located in Point Defiance Park, our 700-acre urban park that is surrounded on three sides by the waters of Puget Sound. Families were able to tour the ELC during an open house on October 3rd. See the school district’s October 4th Facebook post for pictures from the evening; a community celebration is being planned for early 2018.

The Environmental Learning Center is a partnership between Tacoma Public Schools and Metro Parks Tacoma to support education, sustainability and conservation. This joint-use facility is located on Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium grounds and features eight formal learning settings for SAMI and community use, communal space for collaborative and interpretive activities, planning/work space for SAMI and Zoo educators, coordination/work space for Zoo staff and volunteers, and a setting for a nature-oriented early learning experience.

The two-story shared-use building, designed by McGranahan Architects and constructed with Tacoma School District bond funds, serves a range of classroom needs from the high school students who attend SAMI to the littlest learners in the Zoo’s early education programs.

– MetroParks Tacoma, Tacoma Public Schools, McGranahan Architects