Ballot measure would expand popular program

Oregonians likely will have a chance to vote on a measure that provides funding so every fifth- or sixth-grade student in the state can experience Outdoor School.

The Save Outdoor School for All campaign, which petitioned to make Outdoor School financially available for students statewide, announced last Thursday that they surpassed the amount of signatures needed to qualify the initiative for the November Oregon ballot.

Last year, Senate Bill 439 established a statewide grant program to support outdoor learning. But it came with no funding.

The initiative campaign needed 87,213 valid petition signatures to make the ballot. A total of 130,000 signatures were collected, a healthy margin in case many signatures are deemed invalid.

Not every city, school or parent can afford to send students to Outdoor School. The measure will allow 4 percent of lottery funds (up to $22 million) to finance fifth- and sixth-grade students all over the state to attend Outdoor School for a full week.

The bulk of lottery revenue is now dedicated to economic development, education, parks, watersheds and infrastructure.

Most Oregon students attend Outdoor School for two to three days or not at all, says Paige Richardson, the campaign director. “You need the back half of the week for personal development to happen,” she says.

“This program changes kids’ school success, their identity and their career targets for the better,” Richardson says. “That puts them on a path for economic success.”

Outdoor School is more than just a week off from sitting in a classroom, says Rex Burkholder, chairman of the campaign committee. It helps kids develop environmental and outdoor awareness as well as social and personal growth.

Richardson says it helps kids gain self-confidence within themselves and within a group. She says a hands-on learning experience “opens up a kid’s brain” and makes them curious to learn more.

Some students return to Outdoor School in high school as counselors. Centennial High School graduate Tana Barnett says her most life-changing Outdoor School experience came when she returned as a counselor.

Throughout her middle school and high school years, Barnett says she made bad choices and gave up on school. Her adviser suggested she go to an Outdoor School workshop.

“That first week was heaven on the mountain,” Barnett says. “Being a student leader reminded me of who I was, and it honed skills that I didn’t even know I had.”

Barnett says she wants everyone to be able to have the experience and opportunities Outdoor School provides.

“Outdoor School is important,” she says. “It gives sixth-graders a light to carry them through the dark years of middle school. It gives high school students the opportunity to find out what it means to be looked up to. And it gives everyone who passes through the program the opportunity to be loved truly for who you are and not just what you have to offer.”

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