As a sixth-grade teacher, I have been to Outdoor School with many groups of students over my 28 years of teaching. Every single time there is a student who grows in a miraculous way. I think back to the physically challenged student who climbed a mountain to the meadow at Westwind [Camp]. He wasn't first but everyone waited, everyone helped, he didn't give up, and he made it. Then there was the child who had rarely spoken English all year because he lacked confidence in his second language. He started speaking English to everyone at Cedar Ridge [Camp] during the critter catch in the river and he kept talking after we got back. It was the thing that broke the barrier for him. And then there was the child who rarely spoke at all, even in his native language, until Camp Magruder, where he got to play a drum. That was the thing that flipped the switch for him.
For many kids, it's their first time away from home overnight. They are often scared but they learn that they can be afraid to do something they really want to do, do it, and not be afraid any more. For many kids it's not only their first time staying overnight away from home, but also their first up-close experience with nature. They may have never been to the forest or the beach until Outdoor School. More recently, there have been many students who finally realize that you don't have to get a certain number on a test to know that you've learned something and to feel successful.
I've also been around long enough now to see former students show up as high school Student Leaders. The girl who barely talked above a whisper in sixth grade leading and teaching a group of sixth-graders in the Forest Study; the three girls who went in sixth grade recreating a sixth-grade photo as tenth-grade Student Leaders; the child who sometimes spent nights in the park to avoid problems at home showed up as a Student Leader, too.
There is a place for every child at Outdoor School. Everyone feels successful because everyone, in some way, is challenged to grow and become better and stronger, or to look at things in a different way. The focus on team building and working together helps teach not just confidence, but also empathy and leadership skills.
One of my colleagues once asked her adult children and their friends what they most remembered about sixth grade. Outdoor School was on everyone's list: the engaging activities, the confidence gained, the friendships formed, the love of the outdoors fostered. I'm sure many people who read this will remember an Outdoor School experience as well.
My own adult child was greatly impacted by her Outdoor School experience. She returned many times as a Student Leader, every year she could in high school and two years after high school as well. Her husband, my son-in-law, did the same. Their entire family, which includes my two grandsons, is dedicated to both enjoying and protecting the natural world. My oldest grandson will be going to Outdoor School this year for the first time. He's very excited. He loves learning about nature.
I've been around long enough to see the legacy that Outdoor School leaves, a legacy on individual students' lives that impacts others around them in a positive way. Every student deserves the chance to have this experience at least once and it shouldn't be dependent on their family's ability to pay for it.
I have spent every year as a sixth-grade teacher working extremely hard to make sure every student in our school had that opportunity. I hope everyone can join together and make it happen for every child in Oregon.