Popular nonprofit school expands in order to serve more students By Allison Pollock-Pugh
Early childhood education gives children the foundation they need for long-term success in learning and life. However, preschools often have extensive waitlists, and the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation’s (GGHF) Curious by Nature School was no exception. Their nature-based STEM program with a 100 percent outdoor curriculum is in high demand, with dozens of waitlisted students. When the opportunity came to purchase a second property and serve more students, the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation jumped into action.
“After careful review of the purpose designed building and appurtenant 3.5 acres of mostly forested lands along the salmon-bearing Crescent Creek, and evaluation of the business plan developed for the proposed acquisition, while a big decision, it was an easy one for the 11 member GGHF’s Board of Directors,” states Dr. Julie Ann Gustanski, CEO and president emeritus of the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation.
The Curious by Nature School (CBNS) is a Greater Gig Harbor Foundation (GGHF) program–a nonprofit dedicated to bringing impactful resources to the greater peninsula community. The CBNS does that through childhood education, enrichment programs for homeschooled students, and summer camps for children ages 5 to 10. Their one-of-a-kind nature-based early childhood program supports kids' exploration and discovery of our native environment. Students go outside every day, rain or shine, and learn about seasons, plants, animals, ecosystems, habitats, people, cultures and more.
Serving More Local Students
The school’s first location off Wagner Way was at maximum capacity with more than 30 students on the waitlist—some since 2021. The community-focused GGHF planned to expand the Curious by Nature School, but various obstacles kept postponing that plan. That is until late 2022, when a preschool in the Crescent Valley area closed their doors and presented GGHF with the opportunity to purchase the property—a 4,780 square-foot building on 3.52 acres, already built and zoned for early childhood education. Dr. Gustanski recalls, “When I received an email from the owner of the former Arcadia Montessori School, I called her immediately.”
The new campus officially opened on February 2, 2023, and will serve an additional 60 students.
Odette Alina, executive director at the Curious by Nature School, explains that transitioning some existing students and veteran teachers from the Wagner Way campus to the Crescent Valley campus allowed for new programs to be opened at both locations. It also offers more flexibility to families to choose which campus was more convenient for them.
“With the school’s expansion, we were delighted to welcome families from the waitlist to our spring and fall programs, and we’re excited to offer early education and the opportunity to experience the wonder and joy of learning in an outdoor environment to even more children across several communities.”
Crescent Valley Campus
Easily accessible from Crescent Valley Drive, the new campus is a picturesque image of Pacific Northwest living. A quaint red building is filled with art and supplies, books, a mini-indoor greenhouse, specimen jars and microscopes used to examine findings of their daily explorations.
“It’s truly magical to have the opportunity to explore and have open-ended play,” shares Deborah Toney, head teacher. “We are able to offer real-world learning and cater our curriculum to mirror what’s going on outside—which is very engaging for kids. I’ve been teaching in the classroom for 10 years, but this is a step above to do it in real life.”
Walk outside and you’ll find a butterfly statue where a homeschool enrichment class has planted butterfly-attracting plant seeds. Next to the ADA-friendly entrance is a garden bed, and behind the building is a private wooded area of various native trees and plants, with exploration trails backing up to Crescent Creek. Students are encouraged to dig, get dirty, and ask questions as they investigate.
“We brought the enrichment (homeschool) program to the new campus, and now we can expand that program. Right now they’re studying and exploring the nooks and crannies of the forested area to think critically about ways to use the space without disrupting the native plants,” says Nikki Gant, CBNS teacher.
The proximity to Crescent Creek also offers new possibilities for students. Students recently raised salmon in a tank in the classroom. They tested ammonia and nitrate levels of the water and watched as the eggs grew into salmon chum. Once ready, the chum were released into Crescent Creek, which naturally flows into the harbor and Puget Sound.
The relationship between the Curious by Nature School with the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation is unique in that both are nonprofit organizations designed to benefit the whole community. The GGHF has five core areas of focus within its mission: arts and culture, education, the environment, recreation, and social capital. Everything from the school’s indoor/outdoor classrooms and the holistic learning environment to the expansion itself is aimed at benefiting our community.
Curious by Nature School is accepting applications for the 2023-2024 school year as well as registration for 2023 summer camps. Visit GigHarborFoundation.org/cbns to learn more.