'Some are worried about the bugs and worried about other people in their cabin snoring. Mostly, they are excited though and can't wait to get outside and study nature.' -Fifth Grade Teacher Amy Collins

(Image is Clickable Link) THOSEGUYS119 ON FLICKR - Molalla's fifth-graders will head to outdoor school this spring, starting in April.Molalla River School District has received federal funding for outdoor school, which means all four elementary schools are sending fifth grade students to camps this spring.

"The students are excited and nervous at the same time," said Molalla Elementary fifth grade teacher Amy Collins. "Some have never stayed away from home. Some are worried about the bugs and worried about other people in their cabin snoring. Mostly, they are excited though and can't wait to get outside and study nature."

In April, Clarkes and Rural Dell are visiting Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center located in the Opal Creek Wilderness Area in the mining town of Jawbone Flats, Oregon. In May and June, Molalla Elementary and Mulino Elementary are headed over the mountain to Camp Tamarack, just outside of Sisters, Oregon.

"We are very excited about this amazing opportunity for our students," Collins said. "They will be able to learn about the outdoors in a hands-on learning environment."

At Opal Creek, students will begin with a hike along the creek and an introduction to old-growth forest ecology, according to Opal Creek's outdoor school website. They will stay in cabins surrounded by 35,000 acres of forest.

At Camp Tamarack, Collins expects students to experience a very traditional outdoor school program, which includes outdoor recreational opportunities like canoeing and archery.

"…The students stay in cabins with high school counselors and have outdoor field studies," she said. "They will also have a campfire each night. Since it is in Central Oregon, we hope the weather will be nice too!"

In recent years, the school district has not had funds in the budget for outdoor school, but some schools have taken their students with the help of fundraising from parent teacher groups.

Then in the summer of 2017, the Oregon Legislature approved the biennial budget, which included $24 million in lottery funds for Oregon State University Extension Service to oversee a statewide outdoor school program.

When fifth grade teachers brought the funding possibility to the attention of district administrators, Dave Luce, district office administrator, decided to look into it and found that the grant application was due in just two weeks. Luce has a personal connection to outdoor school as he ran one for 11 years during his teaching career. So he spent 10 days building a grant application.

"To have left that money on the table and not apply, I think wouldn't have been prudent," Superintendent Tony Mann said during a school board discussion about outdoor school. "And recognizing that we already had fifth grade teachers that are leveraging this, to have not applied would have been problematic."

In January, the application was approved in the amount of nearly $200 per student. Some parent teacher groups that have spent money on deposits will be reimbursed.

"The exciting thing here is…when I can get money from outside the system to come in and support something," Luce said, "then I'm providing opportunities for our programs that wouldn't have it otherwise. That's exciting stuff."

He added, "Our kids benefit from it."

Luce expects the grant application for next year to become available after spring break.

Kristen Wohlers
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