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  • Writer's pictureFriends of Outdoor School

Friends of Outdoor School, OOA Member

Since 1957, Outdoor School has taken Oregon fifth or sixth grade students from their classrooms into the outdoors to learn, immersed in nature. Outdoor School is typically housed in residential camps; most students stay onsite for up to five nights. While there, they learn about the natural sciences of soil, water, plants, and animals specific to the local ecology. For many children, Outdoor School is their very first opportunity to hike in a forest, get their feet wet in a stream, or explore sea life along a sandy beach. For others, it encourages new understanding and changed perspectives about the natural world and of themselves and other people. These seminal experiences have, for many students, led to a lifetime of outdoor recreation in Oregon and beyond.

Friends of Outdoor School envisions a day when every Oregon student attends a week of Outdoor School. The key connection between Outdoor School and the larger community of individuals, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies that support Outdoor School programming, we are laser focused on creating student access to Oregon Outdoor School programs that contribute to educational development, inspire youth, and promote personal growth.

In spite of the uncertainty that the pandemic and wildfires brought, the Outdoor School community has stepped up in creative and collaborative ways. Outdoor School programs and sites have been planning for multiple contingencies in an ever-changing, unpredictable environment. They have also been supporting school districts by offering remote learning experiences that get kids off screens and outdoors wherever they are.

Many programs are also taking this moment of nation-wide reckoning on racial injustice to examine their programming with a deep dive into equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) analysis. For example, Northwest Outdoor Science School which hosts more than 9,000 students from eight counties has done extensive equity work with their staff. From sharing articles and information to in-person workshops and professional development around racial justice, trauma-informed care, issues around gender and sexuality, social and emotional learning, Indigenous perspectives, implicit bias, and more, the staff have taken upon themselves to learn more, diving into books on these and other related topics. They are sharing their learning with each other and creating safe spaces to speak about challenging issues all in the mission of better educating and creating a nurturing environment for the many different Oregon students they host.

We at Friends of Outdoor School have been supporting the Outdoor School network in all of these efforts. We are grateful for the chance to provide assistance to sites and programs as we all work together to help Outdoor School to not only survive the pandemic, but to thrive for students afterward. We also continue to work with the Governor’s office, Oregon Department of Education, and Oregon Health Authority to provide necessary guidance for reopening Outdoor School safely.

This last year has galvanized the commitment of the Outdoor School community to Oregon kids. We will continue to work together to find solutions to getting kids outdoors to learn. Many Outdoor School programs and sites have been hit hard by the pandemic. We encourage you to reach out and support your local Outdoor School program or site. If you need help finding your local Outdoor School program or site, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

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