Kate Furman installing the outdoor classroom benches onsite at Roosevelt Elementary School

“It was a great match,” according to Sehome High School senior Kate Furman, when sharing how she landed on a meaningful project to attain the Girl Scout Gold Award. In May 2021, Kate chose a small construction project at Roosevelt Elementary School, turning an idea for an onsite outdoor classroom into a reality. Taking on a challenge of this nature usually means being both a leader and a collaborator, an important outcome in the Bellingham Promise, and this project was no exception.

Working with Roosevelt fourth grade teachers Jenny Schiffner and Jen Hanley, Kate developed the plan and scope of the project, discussing with them the overall design and what they envisioned it should look like when complete. Because students in their classrooms are currently in portables, Hanley said “it was our dream to expand our classrooms outside.”

With a design plan in place, the project then had to be approved by both the Girl Scouts Council and by the school district. The district approval was no easy feat as it would need to pass many additional requirements before adding a permanent installation to school property.

Kate met with Mark Peterson, the district’s newly hired director of facilities and sustainability, numerous times in summer 2021 in order to successfully move her project forward.

“Kate faced a couple of significant challenges during this project,” Peterson shared, “and her ability to be flexible and to adapt was key to its success.” According to Peterson, these challenges included relocating the project to an area with less slope and also securing additional help with the augur for penetrating the ground with holes.

“When we assessed the site together, we agreed that we needed to move the classroom to a flatter area to make the outdoor classroom more inclusive and accessible for all students,” he continued, “but when the digging started she found a communication cable that was not marked on the original plans so she had to adapt the layout again and dig carefully.”

By mid- August, the project was approved, having met all the necessary requirements for safety and materials and siting, but with fall coming, the construction window was closing rapidly. “Once we were able to proceed with the project,” Kate said, “we moved quickly to get everything done before the rains came and we finished construction in late September.”

As with all construction projects, additional problems arose. Peterson mentioned that by time she was ready to dig the holes for the cement footings the ground was so hard the auger wouldn’t penetrate the ground, so Kate recruited Roosevelt’s head custodian Scott Sorenson to help get the holes prepared for the cement footings for the benches.

Recruiting help from friends and family alike, with particular mentoring and support by her dad, the benches were built and installed. The school community, her troop and the retail community of Bellingham supported her in this Gold Award endeavor. To fund the project, the Roosevelt PTA and Kate’s Girls Scout troop contributed money and she also received a donation of concrete from Lowe’s and a donation of a rented auger at Hardware Sales.

The project stretched Kate’s skills in many areas. One of the stated goals of the Gold Award process is “changing yourself,” and she noticed how this project made her grow.

“This project helped me to learn many construction skills, such as using a drill, using an auger, and using a saw,” she shared. “I also learned how to persevere through setbacks, such as the long approval process. I had to innovate when we changed the design due to budget constraints.”

High school seniors are often at a busy peak in the fall, and Kate’s fall during construction was no different. “During the time of building, school had just started, I was playing volleyball all the time, and I was also working,” she says. “I had to be very efficient with my time to complete everything that I needed to complete.”

“I was basically a project manager and learned how to be decisive in my decision-making.”

In summing up the project, Peterson added that working with Kate was a great experience. “It was a pleasure to work with a capable, motivated and adaptable student on this project!” he said.

Likewise, teacher Jen Hanley was also incredibly glowing about working with Kate. “Kate was a gift to the entire fourth grade, both teachers and students,” Hanley said.  “She was easy to work with and a hard worker. Once we shared our ideas, Kate managed the project completely. We couldn’t believe how fast she turned our dream into a reality!”

Almost immediately upon completion, Roosevelt students were using the space for guest speakers and onsite field trips outside. “We use the benches whenever the sun is shining, or at least not raining,” Hanley continued. “The students love to grab their books and read on the benches or work on other school work. It’s a great place to spread out.”

“Students were out there everyday last week!”

Kate shared her Gold Award presentation with the Roosevelt school community during a school assembly in November. The Gold Award is all about changing the world, changing yourself, and inspiring others, and is also the most prestigious award in girl scouting, according to information on GirlScouts.org.

Next school year, Kate says she plans to attend a four-year university and is currently interested in a science-related field.


1 Comment

  1. Congrats to Kate for thinking outside the box, in the busiest year of her schooling, and completing a wonderful project for Roosevelt students for years to come.

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