An informational meeting at the Lakeview OSU Extension Office offered the opportunity for teachers, administrators, parents and students to learn about state-funded outdoor school.
While various forms of outdoor school have existed in Oregon since the 1950s, 2015’s Measure 99 passed by Oregon voters opened funding for school districts and Education Service Districts to offer outdoor school for students. Designated for fifth or sixth grade students, the program annually offers a chance for students to spend as many as six days applying classroom lessons in real-life through outdoor activities.
On Monday, Sept. 30 at the Lakeview OSU Extension Office, Southern Regional Coordinator Amy Hoffman and OSU Extension Assistant to the Program Leader, Rita Bauer, visited Lakeview for a public meeting to educate local teachers, administrators, parents and students about outdoor school possibilities.
Measure 99 Outdoor School programs are funded through Oregon Lottery dollars. Paid out by the state every other year, in its initial run the program received only half the desired funding, $24 million, but for the current two-year timeline the program has been funded in full at $48 million. The program has grown in participation as well, from 45% of Oregon schools participating in its first year to now 80% of school districts applying for outdoor school funds.
The program works as a reimbursement model, with school districts applying for funds then having costs incurred repaid through the OSU Extension program.
The informational meeting was an opportunity to meet directly with coordinators of the state program to answer questions about the application process, present different options for outdoor school, answer funding questions, and more.
According to Bauer, the length and location for outdoor schools can vary widely across the state. It is not only an opportunity to apply real world experiences to STEM learning, but to provide valuable life experiences to students by traveling to new areas of the state. Outdoor school can be as short as three days, or as long as six days, five nights. It is strongly encouraged for teachers to participate, but designated outdoor schools provide leaders and instruction.
“Outdoor school is not mandatory, but we have made great progress,” said Bauer. “It isn’t a field trip, it is outdoor school. There are a lot of different things that they can do.”
Bauer noted that some school districts have begun their own outdoor school programs, but each district can customize their planned program with multi-day stops around the state. While aspects of it incorporate experiences that may appear on par with summer camps, everything is presented from an educational standpoint.
“There might be lessons about soil or plants and animals, then they may also go do some kayaking or archery,” added Bauer. “But that experience is incorporated into STEM education, where they discuss what they are doing to shoot an arrow, or how they are propelling a kayak through the water.”
“This really is an incredible program, we have outstanding funding,” said Bauer. “We are all about support, bending over backwards to make sure that they get the experience they want for their students. Outdoor school is not an easy thing to put together, so meetings like this are great for schools and districts that are just getting into it, and we are working with organizations to get more outdoor school providers in the state.”