Outdoor School for All campaign aims to secure state funding

CROOK COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT - Outdoor School has been a local tradition since 1958. Sixth graders from the Crook County School District attend the five-day camp at Suttle Lake each May along with high school camp counselors and middle school teachers. CCMS teachers are part of the Outdoor School for All campaign, which seeks to secure funding for the program state-wide.

Crook County Middle School teachers have joined an effort to secure stable state-level funding for outdoor school programs throughout Oregon.

This past Saturday marked the official launch of the Outdoor School for All campaign, which seeks to rally volunteers and begin a signature-gathering effort to get a measure on the November 2016 ballot. The campaign has already garnered early endorsements and support from nearly 100 state businesses, environmental and educational organizations, including The Standard, Oregon Science Teachers Association of Oregon and the Oregon Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. Now, campaign organizers must gather 125,000 signatures by July 2016 in order to get it on the ballot.

According to campaign representative Darcie Meihoff, outdoors schools have enjoyed a long history in Oregon, but programs have been cut drastically due to lack of statewide funding. Outdoor School for All, a statewide, grassroots initiative, hopes to change that by putting the fate of funding in the hands of Oregon voters.

CCMS teachers Les Parker and Lori Meadows have embraced the campaign.

“We have been to several meetings and talked to people of importance about the need for outdoor schools for everyone,” Meadows said. “Our kids who have gone to camp have written letters to the Legislature.”

Crook County sixth graders started attending outdoor school in 1958, and it has become a critical component of the local education process. Around 220 students attend the five-day camp held at Suttle Lake each May, learning a variety of lessons and skills not taught in the traditional classroom setting.

“Outdoor School has so many benefits for kids – from science education to outdoors appreciation. It opens their eyes to the natural world and provides opportunities to hands-on learning and building leadership and social skills,” Meadows said. “We want to teach them stewardship of the place they live and the quality of recreation we have in our area and teach them to take care of that place.”

Another benefit, it has become a way to unplug sixth graders from the glut of technology now at their fingertips. According to Meihoff, research shows that kids now spend more than seven hours a day in front of screens and on technology devices.

Through the years, financial support for the program from the school district has ebbed and flowed. In recent years, camp has cost between $62,000 and $65,000, depending on transportation and food costs. That cost will be covered this year by the school district, however last year, only half the expense was picked up in the budget. The years prior, when the school district grappled with the fallout of the recession, all costs were covered by fundraising and grants.

If the campaign is successful, voters will get the opportunity to decide whether to dedicate full, permanent funding for Outdoor School, using $22 million per year of Oregon Lottery funds to support outdoor school programs and outdoor education throughout the state. If the measure passes, funding to qualified programs could be available as early as mid-2017.

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