Outdoor schools across the state have the opportunity to extend programs back to their original length and allow other schools to begin programs. All they need is signatures and enough votes in November.
By Jordan “Rift” Wolfe
Outdoor School For All is a campaign to secure permanent public funding for a full week of outdoor school for every fifth or sixth grader in Oregon, according to their website.
“The biggest reason to go after this is that more than half of Oregon’s school districts don’t get the Outdoor School experience,” said Randy Schild, superintendent of Tillamook School District.
To get on the November ballot, Outdoor School For All is asking people to sign their petition. According to their website, no taxes will be levied or raised to fund Outdoor School. Instead, a small portion of existing unallocated Lottery Funds will support it.
Schild said, “If it passes, it would be a huge shot-in-the-arm and grant our program a stability factor.” Tillamook’s outdoor school program moved from Camp Meriwether to Twin Rocks Friends Camp in the fall of 2014, after previous director Dean “Moses” Bones retired. Neah-Kah-Nie and Nestucca school districts are each participating in different outdoor schools out of the county, for the time being.
“Dean Bones ran one of the most cost-effective programs in that state,” Schild said, “Partially because it was all volunteer.”
Schild added that fundraising occurs throughout the year, to help pay for the program, and the district contributes $10,000. That money would go elsewhere for the school
Since the program has moved, Schild said it has shifted from a five-day experience to a four-day, three-night one for the sixth grade campers and high school counselors of Tillamook School District.
“We never considered dropping the program. We saw the value of it,” he said. “In some districts, they view Outdoor School as time lost – which is sad – because we’re not using classroom time for writing, reading and math.”
“For sixth graders to stay there, sleep there and interact with their environment is an experience they will never forget,” he said. “You can ask high schoolers and adults in the community. They remember that experience specifically.”
He added that he remembers his sixth grade experience well and encouraged him to be a high school counselor for three years, “For me, outdoor school is part of my life and who I am.”
The program is reflecting on the near-countless lives it has touched, as Tillamook’s Outdoor School nears its fiftieth anniversary in September, according to camp director and sixth grade teacher, Dee Upton. A big campaign will launch soon asking members of the community to share their outdoor school story and help donate to keep the program afloat, she said.
Joel Thomas, outdoor school coordinator at Twin Rocks Friends Camp, said, “I think Outdoor School is really instrumental for kids’ development. It gets them outside with positive role models. They are experiencing hands-on and sensory learning that can’t be duplicated in the classroom.”
In his experience, Thomas said many schools cannot financially support four or five-day outdoor school programs.
He added that, if the measure passes in November, there could possibly be a supply and demand issue of too many schools searching for campsites to host an outdoor school and physically not having enough in the state.
Schild, however, argued that even with funding in place, many schools just will not participate, “You have to want to do it, in order to pull it off.”
Thomas added, “Tillamook will be doing well, regardless. They already have an in with Twin Rocks.”
Schild said, “If you believe that Outdoor School is important or outdoor education is of value, this is a real opportunity. It seems likes a great investment to me.”
For more information or assistance with petitions, contact Dee Upton at (503) 842-7544 x 4265.
Printed and signed petitions may be mailed to:
Save Outdoor School for All
1319 SE MLK Blvd., Ste. 204
Portland, OR 97214