I went to Outdoor School as a sixth grader on April 12th of 1972. Getting on the bus, I cried and cried and cried. I didn’t want to go. I tried to get Mr. Digger to send me home and he wouldn’t. Then by Wednesday night I was crying because I was going to have to go home! I planted the tree in sixth grade for my class, and got on the bus [to go home]. The person who put me on that bus was Rhoda. That particular session she was the plant resource specialist at Nate Creek.
I got home from Outdoor School and Portland Public Schools was talking about cutting Outdoor School. I was pretty passionate about Outdoor School, and so in the summer of 1972 I wrote my first “letter to the editor” to save Outdoor School.
I went back as a Junior Counselor in my sophomore year in high school. Camp Howard was a site that was being used. I’d heard that it was kind of rustic. At Camp Howard, Mr. Digger started his staff wearing red coats [in the 1970s]. It’s an honor to be given a red coat. I got on the bus and went to Workshop with a thousand other kids and pulled into Camp Howard. One of the staff members stepped up onto the bus wearing a red coat and it was Rhoda, the person that had put me on the bus in sixth grade! I’d promised her that I would come back to Outdoor School.
I ended up with nine weeks as a Junior Counselor at Howard. During that time in high school I worked in the office as an intern with Diane “Thumper” Milleman. As a high school student, I [worked with her to] coordinate the Student Leader Workshop. I did all of the paperwork that went behind that and spent a half-day every day of my senior year at the Outdoor School office.
I ended up going back on staff for five sessions. Then I decided it was time to go back to school to be a teacher, and I’ve been a sixth grade teacher for 26 years. I’ve taken 17 classes of sixth graders to Outdoor School. I continue to advocate for Outdoor School at my school district level.
Then when they cut the program, we did fundraising and raised enough money for our students to go for an overnight. Suzanne Marter was real key in us being able to do that—she helped leverage some other funding. The school district that I teach in is a high-poverty school district, and the middle school that I’m at is the highest poverty and largest middle school in the state of Oregon. Our kids don’t have a lot of opportunities. We have one of the highest attendance percentages of sending kids to Outdoor School.
I’m also the chairperson of the Outdoor School Advisory Committee. Each school district in Multnomah County has a representative that provides input on policy and procedures at Outdoor School. Every seven years when the state of Oregon re-aligns the science standards, we meet and we make sure that Outdoor School’s curriculum is aligned to the current content standards, because the school district isn’t going to pay for a program that really isn’t aligned to their standards and isn’t going to contribute directly to student achievement.
We meet once a month and look at how a field study aligns to standards. We see how we can thread the instructional strategies of the Common Core through the Outdoor School curriculum. Right now, some of our conversations are about how we can use the data that’s collected at Outdoor School—the scientific field study data— so that students can use that for scientific research once they leave the Outdoor School site. Using technology to link the students with the field study even after they leave makes it even more of a connection to the classroom.
Those of us who’ve been around for a long time, we kind of joke about what we’re going to do with our free time once Outdoor School is saved! But then that [would let] us work to improve and grow the program, not just save the program.
It’s fun to still be involved in the program. I have former Student Leaders here who came back and were on staff. My son is now on staff, and the son of one of those former Student Leaders who came back on staff works with him! And coming together with the [MESD Outdoor School] 50th anniversary is really neat.
The movement that we have now is great because it allows each region across the state to develop a program that’s unique to them. It also puts in a level of accountability so that the quality of the program is going to be really good. [For example] where logging is important, where fishing is part of the livelihood of the community, then those programs can focus on those things. Whether you’re in the High Desert or on the Oregon Coast or in Jackson County or Multnomah County, you’re going to have a good-quality program.
Being part of the Outdoor School family, being part of the legacy, is pretty cool. You know, we’re a pretty tight community. We grow teachers. We grow scientists. We have people at Oregon Department of Education. Every environmental agency in the state has people that have come from Outdoor School. And if we’re not growing teachers or growing scientists, we’re helping raise good citizens. One of the things I tend to say is that in a state where we are so dependent on natural resources in our economy, we can’t afford to not send kids to Outdoor School, to not understand the natural processes, to not understand the natural resources. After a kid has gone to Outdoor School in sixth grade, if that’s the only exposure they have [to natural science] as a future decision-maker, as a future voter, at least they’ve had that experience.
Photo Credit: Gavin Mahaley