Columbia Crest A-STEM Academy - Home of the Rainiers!
1951 Education in the upper Nisqually Valley underwent a major change in the year 1951. Prior to this time Ashford, Elbe, and Alder were each separate school districts. In 1951 the three schools combined and also became part of Eatonville School District #404. The school year began with all the children attending school in Ashford. The new Columbia Crest building was not quite finished and did not open until shortly before Christmas. Duane Rose, the Ashford principal, became the first principal of Columbia Crest. Historic Image from the Tacoma Public Library
Former School Board Member Jack Chappell remembers when the decision was made to unite with the Eatonville School District. Giving up local control by each town was only agreed to by the promise that there would always be a school in close proximity to Ashford and Elbe for the local students. This school was an integral part of binding the three small towns together.
Building and moving into Columbia Crest was definitely a community project. Townspeople gathered trucks and moved everything from the Ashford school down to their spacious new home. Local men laid the beautiful hardwood gym floor that would become the envy of many visiting athletic teams. Thanks to the diligent guarding of this floor by long time principal Lucy Fountain it is still in excellent condition.
The school received its name as the result of a student contest. All the children were invited to submit their suggestions. Barbara Barnett had the winning entry. "Columbia Crest" was deemed the most appropriate as the school sits in the shadow of Mt. Rainier and Columbia Crest is the highest point on its summit. Mt. Rainier, the National Park and the agricultural/logging/tourist industries makes the area a very unique place to live and work.
The building has undergone many changes since that inaugural day in 1951. In the beginning, the main entrance was where the current office is and the teachers' room was the main office. The last two classrooms on the main hall were not added until the 1960's. There was no stage and no girl's locker room. The library had plenty of books from the combined schools of Ashford, Elbe, and Alder but was so small it could only accommodate 5-6 students at a time. The current special education classroom was an outside covered play area with a dirt floor. When the staff complained about all the mud being tracked inside the Ashford Community Improvement Club got together and laid a cement pad for the children. The community always stepped up to take care of the needs of the school. The athletic fields were cared for by the Lions’ Club who also sponsored all the community baseball.
The school building underwent a million dollar re-modeling project in 1989. The old domed roof was covered over and the school received a face lift. Due to money constraints not all areas of the school were addressed. Again the community came together to build the large cement plaza in the front of the school.
No history of Columbia Crest would be complete without mentioning the contribution of Lucy Fountain. Lucy came to CC as a young teacher in 1970 and became principal in 1978 after earning her Masters’ in Educational Administration from the University of Washington. She served as principal, 8th grade English teacher and coach while at Columbia Crest. After 19 years as principal she moved on to become the district Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment in 1997. Lucy was well known for her high standards, dedication to students, and ability to get the job done. A two classroom portable was added to the school site as the population of the school approached 250 students.
Pam Burke became principal in 1997 and stayed at CC for four years. In the fall of 2001 she left to become the principal of Weyerhaeuser Elementary. While Pam was principal the population of the school declined and it was decided that the seventh and eighth grade students would be transferred to Eatonville Middle School. David Jacobson followed as a part time principal, part time special education director. As the population of the school continued to decline, the school district chose to create a Dean of Students position. This was filled by Janna Rush who had previously been teaching at Eatonville Middle School.
The district created the Summit Class for fifth and sixth grade students. It was taught for many years by Kathy Johnstone. This class designed for Highly Capable students helped the population of the school to grow so that when Janna Rush completed her administrative work at Seattle Pacific University she became the principal.
The school saw some upgrades between 2009 and 2011. The student restrooms were remodeled, the playshed was rebuilt after it collapsed under heavy snow, the gym floor was refinished and the Department of Natural Resources and NOAA installed a remote operated weather station on the property. Part of the refinishing of the gym included a new center circle painted by well know painter and mountaineer D. Molenaar, lettered by local artist/CC graduate Sarah Larson and documented by photographer Mary Randlett.
Columbia Crest is now known as Columbia Crest A-STEM Academy. In 2012, the teachers and staff at Columbia Crest became involved in the pathway of science, technology, engineering and math as a way to help students prepare for the future. Creating partnerships with Mount Rainier National Park, NW Trek, citizens in the Nisqually Valley and the State of Washington, Columbia Crest was named a Lighthouse School. The ties with the artists in the area added the A for Art in their STEM title.
Following Janna Rush, the principal from 2013 to 2017 was Angie Ellenbecker. During the 2013-2014 school year 7th and 8th grade students rejoined Columbia Crest making the school, once again, a Kindergarten through 8th grade school. The newly chosen principal is Allison Shew. Allison was hired as a primary teacher in 2010. She was an integral part of organizing the move toward becoming a STEM school. She brought groups of over fifty people/organizations to the school to meet and plan for the future. She is also well known for the Career Fairs she held each year at the school.
Many dedicated and capable educators have made their contributions to the school since that inaugural day in 1951. Regretfully, space does not allow for all of them to be listed. Equally important is that this is truly a community school. Columbia Crest began with much community involvement and continues to be a focal point of the area today.
- College Bound Gold Star award 2018 & 2019
- Washington Green School, Bronze Level 2016 & Silver Level 2019
- Innovative Schools OSPI Designation 2016
- United States Department of Education Green Ribbon School Award 2016
- CenturyLink Teachers and Technology 2014
- STEM Lighthouse School 2014
- Other Awards and Recognitions
January 22, 2020
80 percent of last year’s eligible eighth graders signed up for the College Bound Scholarship in Eatonville School District. Statewide, the average sign-up rate was 71 percent, with over 30,000 of last year’s eighth graders signing up. Governor Inslee has recognized the 270 schools and 115 school districts that exceeded the state average with Gold Star Awards, which includes Eatonville Middle School and Columbia Crest A-STEM Academy.
In response to hearing about the Gold Star Award, Superintendent Krestin Bahr said, "We believe in giving every
child in Eatonville an opportunity to achieve success in school and post secondary education. This state program
changes lives and we are so happy to be a Gold Star District. Thank you to the staff and families who partner to give
our children the very best future. Congratulations to CCASTEM and EMS. We are proud of you!"
Eligible students must sign up in middle school, by June 30 of their eighth grade year, to receive this early
commitment of state funding. In combination with other state aid, the scholarship covers tuition at public college
rates. To receive the scholarship, students must enroll in an eligible college within one year of high school
Students who sign up for the scholarship graduate from high school and enroll in college at higher rates than their
low-income peers. The first cohort of College Bound students graduated from high school in 2012. Since then, the
four-year high school graduation rate for these students has consistently been similar to the statewide average, and
over ten percentage points higher than for low-income students who were eligible but didn’t sign up. The first few
cohorts of students who signed up for the scholarship have begun enrolling in college and do so at rates at or above
the statewide average.
To learn more about college bound visit: http://wsac.wa.gov/college-bound
About the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC)
The Washington Student Achievement Council is committed to increasing educational opportunities and attainment in Washington. "
Columbia Crest A-STEM Academy was honored as a Bronze-Certified Washington Green School. We are a part of the statewide community working hard to make schools centers for positive environmental change. (Bronze level is 1 Environmental Category.)
Columbia Crest is now maintaining a Silver level Certification in 2 Environmental Categories. Our second certification in 2019 is in school grounds and gardens.
This award acknowledges CCA school’s commitment to sustainable practices. The areas encompassed by the award include reduced environmental impact and costs, with energy, waste, water, and transportation measures; improved health and wellness, including nutrition, outdoors physical activity, and environmental health efforts; and effective environmental and sustainability education, which features hands-on, authentic, place-based learning and green career pathways.
"Columbia Crest A-STEM Academy has transformed from a K-5 school to a K-8 A-STEM academy and has focused early educational opportunities for students in an outdoor, place-based campus incorporating outdoor lab and learning sites." Randy Dorn - https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/WAOSPI/bulletins/144cf9b
Columbia Crest A-STEM Academy, Ashford, Wash.
Real-Life Outdoor Learning in Rural Washington
Columbia Crest A-STEM Academy (CCASTEM) is a rural school in the southeast corner of Pierce County. This small kindergarten through eighth grade school serves 200, with 58 percent of students receiving free or reduced price lunch. CCASTEM underwent a transformation from a kindergarten through fifth grade school to a kindergarten through eighth grade applied STEM (A-STEM) academy, doubling its population over the last two years with a wait list of incoming kindergartners for the next three years. This transformation has been the result of a deliberate effort to capitalize on early educational opportunities for students in an outdoor place-based educational campus, incorporating outdoor lab and learning sites.
CCASTEM was built in 1952, yet has incorporated excellent energy efficiency management for a small rural site. The building is equipped with lighting and HVAC occupancy sensors for security and long-term energy savings. The school system received a $1,000,000 grant to equip all schools with occupancy-sensitive thermostats and HVAC sensors, which help continue an ongoing decrease in energy consumption. In addition, a propane heater replaced an oil fuel generator, as well as other updates. Staff and students participate in recycling of aluminum, plastic, ink cartridges, and tallow, and use only certified-sustainable paper. In addition, they practice and teach upcycling and Terracycling, and have presented their findings to the school board. Students have lobbied for and received water bottle filling stations, which is unusual for a small rural campus.
In 2014, the dream of having a project-based school site became a reality. CCASTEM is nestled between Rainier National Forest Tahoma Woods 100 acres and the Mount Rainier National Park itself. Students have outdoor labs for stream bed investigations using water flow meters, which were granted to the school last year, and salmon raising tanks. In addition, the school is part of a district that is in the process of visioning with a nonprofit partner, Garden-Raised Bounty (known as “GRuB”), for the future of a 3.2-acre farm that will provide opportunities for growing sustainable crops, and food production for town and school usage. The farm includes a resident barn owl for organic owl pellet discovery. The school has designated “sit spots” in the woods behind the school that allow students to sharpen their observation skills in an outdoor area. Students record changes in an area from season to season, and study how forest areas evolve over time.
Environmental concepts are integrated into the school’s literacy and math program as STEAM topics are provided every day in an embedded, practical, hands-on learning format with programs such as Engineering is Elementary. The CCASTEM library is fully outfitted with environmental resources including books, videos, and hands-on examples of plants and animals. All staff receive training in Terracycle, building worm bins, worm bin composting, recycling, and insect education.
Students are involved directly with Pierce County environmental educators, national park staff, University of Washington Pack Forest employees, and teachers for sustainability and conservation efforts. Hands-on learning through STEM fairs, engineering challenges, field trips, and outdoor classroom settings give students real life learning and experiences unlike those in a traditional school. Students experience the river, forest, and mountain as a system of cycles by documenting river flow, glacial melt, and turbidity using current tools as well as long-term investigations. The results of climate change, river flows, lahar concerns, and glacial health are tangible and visible with Mt. Rainier only eight miles away. This is not book learning, but real life, with results and consequences that students are able to study in depth.
CCASTEM is fortunate to have multiple partners supporting STEM education. These partners include environmental educators at Pierce County Public Work and Education and Youth Outreach Program with Mount Rainier National Park, Nisqually River Education Project, University of Washington Pack Forest, and Northwest Trek. In 2014, CCASTEM earned the STEM Lighthouse Grant award for the state of Washington, making the school one of fewer than 10 elementary schools in the state with this distinction. Students have a variety of opportunities to get involved in community service with the Nisqually River Educational Project. They plant trees, test water, and remove invasive species.
For the past three years, more than 100 students from first through eighth grades stay after school on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons to be part of after school programs including robotics, Sustainability Club, and sports. The aim of these programs is for students to incorporate STEM activities, such as outdoor investigations and engineering practices, to activities outside of the traditional classroom setting. The school also travels to Northwest Trek, Mt. Rainier National Forest, and Pack Forest University of Washington for nature-based educational opportunities incorporating cutting edge tools, hiking, collaborative nature observations, and collaboration with outdoor organizations.
CCASTEM has a new guidance counselor and nurse to provide monthly guidance classes, along with individual sessions related to bullying, peer relations, and self-esteem. Mental health services are provided through a partnership with Multicare, a local health provider. Students spend at least 150 minutes each week in physical activities, with at least 50 percent taking place outdoors.
2014 CenturyLink Teachers and Technology grant award
Columbia Crest was chosen as one of twenty-one school winners chosen for this award. This award included a $5,000 technology grant.
February 13, 2014
Columbia Crest A-STEM Academy was awarded a STEM Lighthouse grant for the 2013-14 school year.They were selected for their ability to reach students in STEM education. The grant was for $18,000. They were recognized for their innovative practices.
Seven Named as STEM Lighthouse Schools
Will receive $18,000 and serve as mentors to others
OLYMPIA — A total of seven schools will serve as Science, Technology, Engineering and Math mentors to other schools in the state.
Known as Lighthouse schools, the seven were recently awarded $18,000 grants each that will promote and develop STEM education, including technical assistance and advice for other middle schools and high schools that are creating their own STEM environments.
The seven schools are:
- Riverpoint Academy (Mead School District)
- Cascade K-8 Community School (Shoreline)
- Toppenish Middle School (Toppenish)
- STEM School (Lake Washington)
- Lakeside High School (Nine Mile Falls)
- Columbia Crest Elementary School (Eatonville)
- Franklin Pierce High School (Franklin Pierce)
“It’s a great honor to be chosen as a lighthouse schools,” said Randy Dorn, state superintendent. “It makes those schools leaders in STEM education. Other schools will look to the seven for guidance on how to successfully teach STEM…”