SAMI's Orientation to Point Defiance

We all know that Tacoma is a beautiful city. Its proximity to a large body of water, and flare for both the new and the old-fashioned make it a dynamic place to live. Here at the Science and Math Institute, 400-plus students are attending classes amidst the grandeur of arguably one of the most beautiful places in Tacoma – Point Defiance Park.

On Friday, September 16, each of Sami’s mentor groups went on our annual tour around the park. We could not go to every single site: There are 760 acres in the park and we had only two hours to visit as many as possible. Point Defiance boasts several blossoming gardens, a waterfront with kayak rentals and snack shacks, multiple historical sites, and of course, the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium.

The first stop for my mentor group (we are known collectively as Mrs. Brouillette’s “Brouilletians”) was the ever-iconic pagoda and Japanese garden. At over a century old, the pagoda has survived arson and lived to tell the tale, though not without its share of renovations. Ever since its reopening in 2013, Sami students, wedding goers, and park visitors now have a lower level of the pagoda to enjoy, complete with meeting rooms and restrooms. The pagoda itself is integral to Sami as a classroom space. During lunch, it is not uncommon to see groups of friends talking by the ponds, or eating under the trees, or doing schoolwork on the steps. No matter how busy, the beautiful architecture and abundant foliage instill a sense of peace in any park goer.

Next up on our tour was the marina. This location is quite popular among students and visitors alike. Sami students frequent both the Boathouse and Anthony’s for their affordable snacks, while visitors with more than fifty minutes to spare may find themselves renting kayaks, or the services of boat launches. The marina has existed, though not in its current form, for even longer than the pagoda. The public has enjoyed the fishing, boating, and other waterfront activities it has to offer since its construction in the 1890’s.

After a short bus ride up Five Mile Drive, the Brouilletians filed into Fort Nisqually. The Fort mimics life during the fur trade in the 1800’s, both in appearance and in activity. The log walls surrounding the settlement are built up higher than the roofs of the buildings, two of which are survivors from the original Fort Nisqually. A small chicken farm and rows of vegetables occupy the southeast corner. The tour guides themselves have all donned clothes from the nineteenth century. There was an assortment of top hats, bonnets and waistcoats, and our guide kept checking his pocket watch (a much appreciated flourish on his part). After a quick introduction to our class space within the fort, we moved back outside to a picnic shelter just outside the walls. Here, one of Point Defiance’s rangers explained to us the rules of the park. Sami students must present a good image for our school in the park by keeping it cleaner than we found it. One of our several ways to give back to the park is through our Outdoor Education course, where students will pick up trash along the trails in addition to learning about the native and invasive plants of Point Defiance. Aside from Outdoor ed, we are expected to “not leave a trace”, meaning that we must keep the park free of any clues that we were there. The majority of students are committed to doing just this.

The Sami experience is one like no other. It is not everyday that a student takes classes among the trees, nor is it common to learn humanities in an 1800’s-themed museum. We are more than fortunate to have this partnership with Metro Parks Tacoma, Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, and Fort Nisqually, and we can only hope to benefit the park as much as they have benefited all of Sami.