Celebrating our 20th Anniversary, featuring Steve Garlid & Bryant Elementary School


Celebrating our 20th Anniversary, Featuring Steve Garlid & Bryant Elementary School 


“For many kids, being given time and space to explore nature has become rare. IslandWood recognizes and protects this opportunity.”


Steve Garlid poses with students and Garden Educator Jen Prodzinski in the garden.

Steve Garlid poses with students from Bryant Elementary and Garden Educator Jen Prodzinski in IslandWood’s garden classroom.

As we continue to celebrate our 20th anniversary this year, this month we’re thrilled to feature a teacher and his many classes at Bryant Elementary School. Because of course, teachers and their students are exactly what IslandWood was built for.


In the spring of 2002, Steve Garlid and his fifth-grade Bryant Elementary class were one of the eleven schools included in IslandWood’s pilot of the School Overnight Program (SOP). Since then, Steve has brought his students to IslandWood every year since. (Except during the 2020-21/2021-2022 COVID school years when field trips were not possible.) Which means, including this 2022-23 school year, he has brought his students to IslandWood for a total of twenty years!


It’s such an honor to work with the many talented and passionate teachers across the region who continue to choose IslandWood over and over again. We asked Steve if he could share with us why, after twenty years, he continues to choose IslandWood as an experience for his 5th-grade classes. We invite you to read his impactful words below.

“When I think of IslandWood, indelible images come to mind:  students taking steps up the canopy tower, lifting rocks to discover tiny crabs on the beach at Blakely Harbor, sitting shoulder to shoulder around a crackling campfire. We’ve been going to IslandWood since 2002. It’s hard to believe, but even harder to imagine not going. What keeps us coming back?


Bryant Elementary teacher Steve Garlid sits with students at the beach.

Bryant Elementary teacher Steve Garlid with students at Blakely Harbor on Bainbridge Island for a marine exploration.

First, going to IslandWood allows students to take a step away from home, and into a 220-acre classroom. Many of the fifth graders we take haven’t spent a single night away from home, let alone three. IslandWood provides the safe, and profoundly rich environment for them to manage this. When students step off the bus on their first day, they’re greeted by field instructors and staff dedicated to making their experiences educational, safe, and fun. Quite simply, the environment at IslandWood encourages students to take risks, and grow. Students overcome fears of the dark on the night hike, fears of heights on the suspension bridge, and fears of isolation in the friendship circle. When they arrive, all their senses are engaged, including of course their sense of taste. The food at IslandWood is legendary!


Second, we come back because IslandWood allows and encourages discovery. Whether they’re collecting samples from Mac’s Pond, researching native flora as part of “Each One, Teach One”, or taking a close-up look at a banana slug – students interact with their environment – and become a part of it. For many kids, being given time and space to explore nature has become rare. IslandWood recognizes and protects this opportunity.


Finally, we keep coming back because IslandWood brings us together. The transformation kids go through in just four days can be amazing. For many, it means growing up a little, making a new friend, and realizing they’re stronger than they thought. They have hiked on trails, problem solved, overcome homesickness, planned skits, helped set tables, shared ideas, and eaten snickerdoodles together. In the process, they’ve shared their strengths, discovered their vulnerabilities, and realized their resilience in just a few days.


During the pandemic, we had to miss two trips to IslandWood.  This year, we were able to go.  The difference was profound. Since returning, they know each other in ways they never could have if we hadn’t gone. Why do we keep coming back?  It’s the steps, the discoveries, and most of all the community that forms while we’re there. IslandWood isn’t just a camp, it’s our school in the woods!”


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One Comment

  • Pat O’Rourke says:

    Teachers like Steve Garlid are full partners with IslandWood to provide special learning experiences for their students. It takes commitment, energy and hard work from teachers to prepare for and be involved at IslandWood. Thank you Steve!
    Pat Guild O’Rourke (former IslandWood education head and current docent.)

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