Oregon schools might bolster outdoor education

Thursday, October 27, 2016by  Jon Osterberg

An Oregon ballot measure seeks to restore the once-robust Outdoor School program for sixth-graders statewide.
     Launched more than 50 years ago, the program at one time educated 90% of Oregon's 11- and 12-year-olds on environmental principles. Today, just half of students take part because of tax deficits and the recent recession.
     Backers propose tapping the state's lottery proceeds to fund Outdoor School for all Oregon public and private schools.
     Opponents say funding would suck money from economic growth and impose "liberal Portland's values" on rural Oregon children, as reported in The Seattle Times.
     Outdoor education has long been a tradition in Washington, as well as Oregon. Fifth- and sixth-graders have gone off-site to attend Washington outdoor camps since at least the 1940s.
     PEMCO has supported outdoor education for decades, and in years past we funded significant capital improvements at Camp Waskowitz near North Bend, owned by the Highline School District, and Cispus Learning Center near Randle.
     Waskowitz and Cispus are both former Civilian Conservation Corps camps built in the 1930s. My own kids attended outdoor camp at Waskowitz in the 1990s with their Audubon Elementary classmates.
     I can vouch for the value of outdoor education myself, having been steeped in it during fifth grade at Lake Hills Elementary in 1964-65. Back then, Bellevue Public Schools called its week-long retreats into the woods "conservation camp."
     Our class bused from Lake Hills to Camp Lutherland, located on the shores of Lake Killarney south of Federal Way. At the time it seemed extremely remote. Now I know we were just a stone's throw from Highway 18 and less than a mile east of present-day Interstate 5. Lutherland is long gone, now transformed into the global headquarters of World Vision.
     At conservation camp, like in several fun field trips that year, we learned about pollution, protecting soil and water, geology, and preserving/conserving our natural resources. We sang folk songs and performed skits around the campfire, and we did chores.
     We also learned how to use good manners when eating in large groups, and we were penalized when we didn't. Such as the time my boy's dorm lost points because Mrs. Bellos caught me nudging peas around my plate with my thumb.
     I can't help but believe that conservation camp and present-day outdoor education helped to forge our Northwest green values. I hope Oregon students again can benefit as much as their forerunners.

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