Outdoor learning opportunities abound at Woodin

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Woodin two courtesy
Courtesy photo
If you haven’t been to Woodin Elementary in a while, make it a point to stop by and take a look at the school.

Actually, take a walk around the outside of the place because that’s where some unique and exciting things are happening.

The site is blooming with gardens, from beds chock- full of edibles to an area devoted specifically to plants that attract butterflies.

And then there’s the outdoor classroom, an additional learning space for teachers and students, as well as a gathering area for parents before and after school.

Soon, student-constructed totems and cedar fence boards made on Northwest Coastal art day will be installed on the property, along with a large scale painted map of the state of Washington, created by one of the fourth grade classes.

And in the future, there’ll be more gardens, each with a different theme.

“We’re going to have a Native Northwest one,” explains parent volunteer Angela Johnson. “It’ll contain edibles that the Northwest Native Americans ate, such as huckleberries. There’s also going to be a colonial garden with corn, beans and squash, and then we’re going to have a cultural garden in honor of the Hispanic holiday, Dia de los Muertos.  It will be full of marigolds, the symbolic flower of this celebration.”

Johnson notes that 26 percent of the student body at Woodin is Hispanic. The local woman, whose two children go to the school, has been at the helm of these outdoor projects, contributing hundreds of hours over the past few years to bring them to fruition.

She says, “My mission is to create gardens that are curriculum-related and artistic outdoor areas that give kids a place to rest, learn and enjoy being out in nature.”

Realizing that she would need to get community support for her ideas, Johnson began connecting with various organizations and companies that offer grants for environmental, educational and cultural purposes.

The first grant she received came from the East Lake Washington District of Garden Clubs, who gave $650 for the creation of an edible garden. Next came a $5,000 “Toolbox for Education” grant from Lowe’s Home Improvement, which went toward the construction of the outdoor classroom space that was completed last summer.

Several Woodin fathers constructed the tables and benches and a group of moms and kids dug trees out and spread ground cover.

Mack Ohnemus, a past Woodin student, who is now at Leota Junior High, built planter boxes around the space for his Eagle Scout project.

The butterfly garden was created with additional grant funds from the East Lake Washington District of Garden Clubs and the Woodinville Garden Club added a special dish rock, which holds water for the butterflies.

And then there’s a grant from Annie’s Naturals, which is being used for a summer sunflower growing contest.

“Think of all the learning that can take place with measuring, journaling and also the social connections whereby students need to develop a care plan for the seeds/plants with their current set of classmates to ensure maximum growth over the summer,” explains Johnson.

Materials for the additional three theme gardens, which will be completed next year, are courtesy of a $2,000 Yes to Carrots grant.

“We could never do any of this without grants,” notes Johnson. “What’s funny is that I had never written a grant before I started doing all of this. After doing the first one, I realized that it’s not that hard. You just follow the instructions. I like to write so it came pretty easy to me, but I didn’t know whether we’d be able to get any money. I was so happy when I got that first one. It made me want to apply for more and then the ideas have just kept rolling in.”

According to Woodin principal, Jill Crivello, Johnson is an excellent resource for the entire school community. She says, “When it comes to securing grants for outdoor educational spaces, Angela is a ‘money-making machine.’ She is all about providing environmental educational opportunities for our students and we sing her praises every day!”

The local woman, who grew up in Minnesota and spent summers on her grandfather’s farm, feels that it is important to instill an appreciation and respect for the environment in young children.

She says, “I want them to have a close relationship with nature. Nature is good and we must make sure to take care of it. We must be responsible caretakers. I also want them to understand where their food comes from and to show them how easy it is to grow your own food.”

Many of the students and teachers at Woodin refer to Johnson as the “Nature Lady” or “Garden Teacher.” She is a familiar presence at the school, where she spends upwards of 15 hours a week volunteering in a variety of capacities, but the gardens are her passion.

“Gardening provides a wonderful, hands-on learning experience,” comments Johnson. “And, there’s so much you can do to tie it to the curriculum. The first graders, for example, have a plant unit in the fall, so they come out to the gardens and learn about the parts of a plant. They see the roots, stems and petals, and they touch and feel them with their hands.”

Second graders study the life cycle of the butterfly and use the butterfly garden as an observation site. In third, fourth and fifth grades, there’s an emphasis on Native Americans.

“The theme gardens will be ideal for them,” adds Johnson.

Sixth graders took part in a plant sale fundraiser that the school had this past year. They planted the seeds, tended the plants as they grew and then subsequently sold them.

Librarian Stephanie Dunnewind created an entire research project for the sixth grade classes to engage in during the process.

Johnson stresses that she is not a one-woman operation. Her partner in crime is parent Dorothy Higashi. “She’s good with schematics and tools,” says Johnson. “My strengths are ideas and writing. We make a great team.”

She adds, “But, none of this would happen without all of the other people who put in the time and effort to help make things happen around here, from the kids and their parents to the teachers and staff. And then there is the community, which has been very supportive. It really does take a village.”

Johnson’s grant writing days are far from over. She believes such funding is necessary in order to continue to enhance Woodin’s learning environment.

She remarks, “I want people to know that even a Title I school can be fantastic and really big things can happen here even when the PTA is not the most lucrative in the district. This is a good school. We can be proud of this school.”

Local toy company aims for innovation and novelty

  • Written by Deborah Stone
PlayVisions CEO
Play Visions CEO Mark Chernick. Courtesy photo.
Mark Chernick never expected to be the CEO of a toy company.

The local man graduated college with a degree in biology and went to work in the real estate industry.

He established his own business and then years later, sold it.

While at a friend’s house one day discussing possible new opportunities, he happened to glance at his friend’s four-year-old daughter, who was playing with stickers on the floor nearby. It was at that moment that the idea for Play Visions was born.

“Life has strange twists,” comments Chernick. “I never thought I would be where I am today. Things just happened because I was open to the opportunity.”

Founded in 1990 by Chernick and two of his high school classmates, Webb Nelson (president) and Jay Keron (CFO), Toy Visions is a Woodinville-based innovative impulse novelty toy company that manufactures over 300 products. Ideas for the items come from a variety of sources, notes Chernick.

He says, “They can come from pictures in a magazine, something in the news, in a store, all over the place, basically. And we’re constantly creating new items, which is why we are one of the leading developers of impulse novelty and trend products.”

In 2005, Play Visions acquired the company Cascade Toy, a well-known brand of top quality plush toys. The acquisition gave Play Visions the opportunity to innovate and take a run-of-the-mill plush item and make it unique.

“Zibbies,” for example, are cute plush animals, with a twist. They each have trademarked Hyperflex hair, a stretchy material that expands to 10 times its original size and returns back to its original form.

The company continued to grow and in 2007, it acquired Club Earth, a world-renowned brand of proprietary novelty toys.

According to Chernick, Club Earth’s nature and animal-themed products have been a perfect fit for the zoo, aquarium and museum business where the company has had a strong presence for many years.

He comments, “These are toys that are aimed at consumers who are environmentally conscious,” and adds as an aside, “My biology degree came in handy when we were developing products for Sea World and needed to write some descriptions. I had it all in my head.”

Play Visions’ products are distributed all over the country.

In addition to major retailers, zoos, museums and aquariums, its novelty items can be found in theme parks.

“We develop numerous products under licensed characters like Gumby and Homer Simpson,” says Chernick, “and have other licensed products under different brands such as LEGO, Hershey and Rubik.”

The local man attributes the company’s growth to innovation, commenting, “We’re in a trend industry and we’re always looking for new products and exploring new technologies and new materials. Right now, for instance, we are in the process of developing 50 or so new items, which will take from four to six months to bring to market.”

He adds, “We strive to be creative and design toys that are not seen anywhere else in the impulse novelty world. It’s about innovation, not imitation.”

“Real Estate is like Hay Fever, They are Both Seasonal”.

  • Written by Submitted by WILL BRUCE, Designated Broker/Owner

Real estate sales move in predictable cycles. Spring and early summer see a decided uptick in sales activity.  People like to get settled before school starts Come autumn, sales slow down. Real estate sales follow this seasonal pattern.

Warmth returns to the market. We are in the sales season.  Beyond that we see an increase in buyer demand.  Why? Many buyers find bargains with short sales and bank-owned properties.  These “distressed “properties tend to sell for less than normal residential re-sales.   They sell at discount.  Buyers get bargains. How much discount?

The percentage discount of foreclosures over the last three years has remained pretty constant between 28 and 29 percent.The percentage discounton a short sale has increased pretty dramatically. It’s gone from 18 percent in 2009 to a 23 percent discount. So anyone buying a short sale is getting a real steal. Taken together with record low interest rates, many buyers have come out of rentals and become homeowners. They see rents on the increase.

With tax deductions, it becomes more economical to own than rent.

What about home prices?  What direction? Will increased demand equate to an increase in home prices? Price is determined by supply and demand.

Nationally, demand has strengthened, showing a 10 percent increase over the same month last year.  The supply of homes for sale is down 20.6 percent from the same time last year.

Because supply is down and demand is up, many believe prices should begin to increase as we finish out 2012. We join with that optimism, but for two reasons we caution our Woodinville sellers from pricing their properties too high.

First, look for more homes on the market in the next six months. New supplies will come from bank foreclosures coming on at discounted prices and sellers who’ve wanted to sell over the last couple of years but were waiting for the market to rebound.  The compass may swing back to a buyer’s market.

Second, the appraiser from the buyer’s lender may think the seller’s strong purchase price too high. The buyer can’t get a loan and this kills the sale. We’re seeing an increasing gap between pending sales and the number that actually close.  Appraisal has become the bugaboo.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to convince appraisers that the market justifies spiked prices. Sellers must be careful not to price too high just because they see multiple offers.

In summary, the real estate market enjoys its busy season.   Beyond that we see a national and regional rebound.

Beyond the normal seasonal cycle, we also see the climate shifting generally to produce a stronger more active real estate market. Bargains can be had with the distressed properties.  Inventory is down, demand up.

Prices will feel upward pressure, but prudent sellers will curb steep price increases because of new inventory on the way and appraiser caution that can kill transactions.  It’s the sales season.  Things are heating up.

Lessons Learned In a Very Tough Market

  • Written by Submitted by Shannon Woodcock, Cascade Team

It has been a rough ride the last four years for Woodinville home sellers and indeed home sellers all across the country.  All you need to do is pick up a newspaper, read a blog or talk to a neighbor whose home is/was on the market; the news wasn’t good. Prices were dropping quickly, loans were hard to get, inventory was high and buyer confidence was shaken due to the sharp turn in the housing industry.

We have all heard the stories of the nightmare short sales, foreclosures and loss of value that most homeowners have faced and are still facing.  As a real estate broker, it has been nothing short of heart breaking to work with sellers faced with losing their home or with the prospect of losing an enormous portion of their retirement.

The amazing lesson that has emerged for me as a real estate broker working with dozens of struggling sellers and buyers (yes, buyers!)  has been nothing short of awe-inspiring. That lesson is just the real estate version of one of life’s most important lessons: “It’s not what happens to you. It’s how you handle what happens to you.” I continually come across very brave people trying to make hard decisions about what to do in this market.  The fortitude and grace with which people have handled this real estate nightmare has amazed me over and over again. I have worked with sellers who have employed a research-based approach to the financial “downturn.”  They have chosen to study the market, investigate their options and ask excellent questions as they formulate a plan. I have had clients who have gone through short sales, losing hundreds of thousands of dollars, keeping their sense of humor and reminding anyone who laments their loss that if they still have their health and their kids are happy, then it is all good! One particularly wonderful couple in their 50s whom I worked with to short sell their home said with a hearty laugh, when asked how they were doing, “Oh, we are doing great! It’s like we are newlyweds again with no money and living in a rental.”

I have worked with buyers who have brought great humanity to this market.  The perception during the downturn has often been how fortunate the buyers are, and in many cases that is true.  But there are the instances where I have, again, been so moved by my buyers who have displayed such empathy for sellers who have lost their home.

One couple misted up when they saw a room that had been joyfully painted pink with a girl’s name stenciled on the wall. I have worked with buyers who have invested in homes with years of deferred maintenance: failing septics, rotting roofs, homes stripped of all the light fixtures.  And they have said to me, “I love Woodinville so much; I just want to live here, even if the home is in massive need of repair, and I’m not sure how much it will ultimately cost.”

They are going into the “great unknown” as they try to breathe life (and money) into these distressed homes and make the neighborhood proud again.

And along the way, I have come across outstanding fellow brokers who will do anything for their clients.  I have enjoyed putting my head together with these colleagues to work to come up with creative win-win solutions for our clients.  I have found myself and cooperating brokers trying to keep a sense of humor as we navigate the less-than-logical systems banks have created to close a short sale.

In the last few weeks, a funny thing has happened: Headlines are saying the market is back, fueled by four years of depressed prices, current historically-low interest rates, and low inventory of homes.

We are seeing multiple offers and even prices notching-up in some segments of the market.  Hold on! The market is changing again as it always does.  But I won’t soon forget the lessons from the last four years of how great people can be in the face of adversity.

Circus arts are the focus at Camp ZinZanni

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Zinzanni one
“Acrobalance is a combination of acrobatics and balance with an introduction to the aerial arts and other gravity defying acts.” Courtesy photo
Summer camps abound in this region and serve as a great opportunity for children to discover an interest or enhance an existing passion.

The offerings are numerous, from arts-based programs and outdoor recreational adventures to science explorations and computer/tech classes.

There’s even a camp for kids who dream of running away to join the circus.

Camp ZinZanni, which is operated through the ZinZanni Institute for Circus Arts (ZICA) in Seattle, is the perfect place for those with a penchant for the circus arts.

Four years ago, ZICA began the camp with one week-long session.

Today, it operates 10 summer camps, as well as programs during mid-winter and spring breaks.

For the young’uns, there’s “Clown School Mini Camp,” which introduces the 4- to 5-year-old set to circus techniques with an emphasis on the five senses, movement, hand/eye coordination and balance.

Participants also get to try their hand at clown makeup and costuming. Those ages 5 to 8 are eligible for “Junior Clown Camp,” where they can focus their energy on learning clown routines and basic slapstick.

Also for this age group is “Junior Jugglers,” a class that gives campers the basics of object manipulation using scarves, juggling balls, yoyos, ribbons and hats.

Zinzanni two
Classes are taught under Teatro ZinZanni’s big tent by professional instructors, Courtesy photo.
And for future magicians, there’s “ABC’s of Abracadabra.”

If you have a child in grades 2 to 4 with an interest in science, “Circus Science” will teach him/her how to apply the science of the circus to clowning, magic and balancing skills.

Offered in partnership with Pacific Science Center, the program provides opportunities for participants to test physics as they master their center of gravity and experiment with inertia, motion, momentum and balance.

Campers spend half the day at PSC and the other half at Teatro ZinZanni.

The art of comedy, from Charlie Chaplin to John Cleese and Lucille Ball, is explored in “Comedy Camp: Slapstick & Clowning.”

A teaching artist from Teatro ZinZanni teaches the moves, while an acting teacher from Seattle Children’s Theatre helps the kids discover and integrate the characters, relationship, objectives and setting of the scene.

There are also camps geared specially toward middle schoolers and teens like “Acrobalance” and “All the World’s a Tent.”

“Acrobalance is our most popular camp,” notes Nadia Tarnawsky, head of operations for Camp ZinZanni and events and education manager. “It’s a combination of acrobatics and balance with an introduction to the aerial arts and other gravity defying acts. I think the kids really enjoy this program because it’s so closely aligned to what a true circus is in their minds.”

In “All the World’s a Tent,” participants spend an intensive week with the artists and instructors of Teatro ZinZanni and Seattle Shakespeare Company learning to apply their acting and circus skills to the Bard’s text.

Each week-long camp session meets from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., with the exception of the “Clown School Mini Camp which meets from 9 – 11:30 a.m.

Classes are taught under Teatro ZinZanni’s big tent by professional instructors, who are accompanied by several camp counselors who serve as teaching assistants.

“Our instructors are actual performers,” explains Tarnowsky. “We like to have current performers from our Teatro ZinZanni production on our teaching staff. And they also perform for the campers during the sessions.”

Campers get the chance to strut their stuff, too, during an open class for family and friends on the last day of each session.

Tarnowsky attributes the continued popularity of the camps to the lure of the circus and the ability of the program to make the circus arts accessible to kids of all ages.

“You’d be amazed at what they can do after only a week of instruction,” she says. “And no matter what skill level they’re at, they find their own talents and succeed.”

For more information about Camp ZinZanni, call  (206) 802-0011, ext. 7238 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..