SAFE BASE is heading West



May 30, 2013 - 12:00 AM

“Most people thought we were crazy,” Angela Henry said with a look that expressed sincerity. “The other people we were talking to said they were going to use the grant for computers.”
Henry, the SAFE BASE director, said her after-school program was approved for a grant from the Kansas State Department of Education in mid-March. They had already received $1.1 million in funding from KSDE, but the most recent grant was an additional $100,000. It was at that point she knew she could make the trip happen, one she had been “wanting to happen for the past six or eight years” — a week-long summer trip to Colorado.
“This is pretty off the charts, it’s a big deal,” Henry said in her office, the day after she held an informational meeting with the parents of the children who will be attending the trip.
There are 75 students, third through eighth grade, who will ride charter buses to Rocky Mountain National Park and stay in the area from June 22 to 29. There are four weeks total for this year’s summer program, culminating in the Colorado trip for the last week.

THE FIRST stop for the kids, for kindergarten through eight grade, will be at the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita. The students have been granted special permission to camp overnight inside the zoo. They will have the opportunity to take a flashlight tour of the zoo and have some close-encounters with its animal residents.
For the second week, the kids go on an overnight trip to Hannibal, Mo., along the Mississippi River. They will experience Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” firsthand, by visiting the gravesite of Injun Joe, seeing the cave where Jesse James supposedly hid and visiting some “haunted” mansions along the river.
The third break will be a bit of a vacation from the vacation. All grades, K-8th, will go to Derby Waterpark for a day of fun in the sun. Then it’s the main event — off to Colorado.

FOR A PROGRAM that is so unique, the preparations have not been easy either.
After garnering permission from the USD 257 Board of Education, with a Kansas Association of School Boards attorney in-tow, Henry was off to work for a two-week turnaround of the program.
“We’ve bought 27 tents and 106 sleeping bags for the kids,” she told the students’ parents during the informational meeting.
She has also had contact with the Boy Scouts troop for information on camping and preparedness.
“I went to them and asked them, ‘what do we need to do to be prepared?’”
There are 25 staff attending as well, a ratio of one adult to every three students. They have a registered nurse on staff, as well as an Iola police officer.
But, all of the logistics will be worth it, to Henry at least.
“It’s about the experience, so they can connect with things that aren’t in our area,” Henry said. “I can’t wait to see the expression on their faces, when they see the mountains for the first time.”
She said many of the students have not been out of Kansas, much less in the towering Rocky Mountains.
Their journey through the mountains will be filled with experiences. They are seeing an IMAX in Denver, learning from park rangers in RMNP, riding a train through the mountains in Georgetown, exploring America’s highest city (Leadville, Colo.), gold mining and whitewater rafting in Bighorn Sheep Canyon — and those are just to name a few.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Henry said.