Each spring and fall, sixth grade students from across the state head to area camps to get in touch with nature while learning about science and the environment from teachers, program staff, and high school volunteers. And at the end of the day, they don’t head home, but instead huddle up around campfires to share the learning of the day under the stars.
This is the first year many students have had the opportunity to attend a five-night experience since 2009, when recession-fueled belt-tightening cut many outdoor school programs to just two nights. At that time, Metro stepped in to provide funding to cover one day of outdoor school, helping keep the program alive in the Portland region.
“Things take time,” says Jackson Middle School humanities teacher Scott Cameron. He’s been bringing students to outdoor school since 1992 and estimates he has been 23 times. He says he’s thrilled the program has been restored to five nights. “Seeing science concepts played out in the field over a period of days is just a richer and deeper experience,” he says. “With the five night program, the students wrestle with things out here and learn to interact and I get the benefit of that in the classroom for the whole school year.”
Cameron says students also benefit socially. “One barometer, and it’s a funny one, is that for the half weeks, kids don’t cry on the way back on the bus,” he says. “But they’re crying again this year.”
Teacher Scott Cameron talks about outdoor school
Student volunteers teach - and learn, too
Part of what makes outdoor school successful is the participation of high school volunteers who take time off school to teach the sixth graders. Lena Grover, a senior at Grant High School, has been volunteering since she was a sophomore.
“I had a great time on my outdoor school program in sixth grade and I knew this was a place I wanted to return to and it was something I wanted to learn more about,” says Grover, whose outdoor school name is Cedar. “I was scared to come here and lead kids. I hated public speaking. So I said, ‘I think this will be good for me.’ Outdoor school has really helped me grow into myself.”
Outdoor school volunteer Lena Grover
Program connects the science of nature with the choices we make every day
Metro spends a little more than one million dollars each year funding a day of outdoor school. Along with that funding, Metro also helps outdoor school staff develop curriculum that teaches students about conserving the precious natural resources they are learning about first-hand.
Cameron says the students get a lot out of the waste reduction education Metro provides.
“The Metro curriculum gives students specific tangible connections to wise resource use and helps remind our students that individual choices matter,” he said. “I think they come home and they are more aware that when they use paper it comes from a tree and they need to make good choices.”
Since 2009, nearly 85,000 sixth graders received Metro’s message of reducing waste and conserving resources as part of their outdoor school experience.
Outdoor school cultivates a legacy of stewardship
Metro Councilor Sam Chase says he’s proud of Metro’s commitment to outdoor school.
“Outdoor school is one of the best avenues we have for educating our future stewards of the environment,” he says. “At Metro, we need to have that next generation ready to take over and take care of those natural areas.”
Chase, who has spent enough time at outdoor school to have an official outdoor school name, Fishy, says the program is great because it engages students who haven’t had similar experiences in their lives.
“They come back and say, ‘I want that to be part of my life,’” he says. “You really see that transformation and it’s pretty incredible.”
Back on the banks of the Sandy River at Angelos Outdoor School, Schafer walks along the rocky shore with his small group. He says he was skeptical about outdoor school and the fact that it was, well, outdoors.
“I relatively enjoy the outdoors, but not always,” Schafer says. “But this has made me realize how much nature matters.”
Appreciating the outdoors
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