As I near my 50th birthday, let me share how important this essential program is. In 1972 I attended Camp Howard as a sixth-grader. I was raised in a low-income, single-parent home. Our family did not have the opportunity to travel outside our neighborhood community. My siblings and I did not experience extra-curricular activities like our other schoolmates. We simply didn’t have the funds. As a sixth-grader headed to Outdoor School, I was anxious. I didn’t have the clothes, equipment, or basic knowledge that come with growing up with a family that had “enough.” I was worried about sticking out and being ridiculed, which was part of my daily life at school. Looking back, I realize now that my kind-hearted teacher was aware of my fears; I had a sleeping bag, toiletries, and a rain coat, just like everyone else.
My week at Outdoor School changed my life. I still remember my high school counselors, “Rain” and “Puppy”— if you are out there, thank you! I was put in a cabin with girls from three other schools and suddenly I was one of them. We were all the same. There, we weren’t the haves and the have-nots. The beauty of the program is that Outdoor School serves all students. It isn’t necessarily reflected in a measurement, although middle-school science scores show achievement after attending.
The program teaches life skills. I ate three nutritious, homemade meals a day, which wasn’t something I was used to experiencing. To this day, Outdoor School continues to prepare meals made from scratch and also accommodates kids with special diets. I was nurtured, supported and loved. I learned about the plants, water, soil and animal life. I realized how I loved the woods, which I wasn’t exposed to as a child stuck in the city. On my last day of Outdoor School, I cried and cried. I had bonded to this precious program as well as all the other students.
As I sit here today, with a life that has climbed out of poverty, and rich with family, I have to say that Outdoor School opened my eyes and let me glimpse the opportunities my life had. I am here because of it. I know that school districts are strapped financially. I’m thankful that Friends of Outdoor School works so hard to get funding through additional resources. Thanks to METRO for their support. We cannot lose this program. It really is about the kids, our future stewards.
Lena “Dove” Coleman, Sixth Grader: Howard in November 1972, Outdoor School Operations Specialist: 14 years