Should all children get an outdoor education? In this Oct. 6, 2016, photo, from left, Outdoor School students Evie Larson, Lillyann Samson and Maya Herring run a test on pond water during a lesson at Camp Howard in Mount Hood National Forest near Corbett, Ore. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)
Should all children get an outdoor education?
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Editor’s Note: Voters in Oregon voted in favor of Measure 99. 

Each year, thousands of Oregon parents hug their kids goodbye and send them tramping into the wilderness for up to a week to learn about their state's natural wonders.
 
The Outdoor School program was groundbreaking when it started more than a half-century ago. Since then, more than 1 million children have enjoyed - or endured - this rite of passage at campsites scattered from Oregon's stormy coast to its towering evergreen forests to its rugged high desert.
 
At the program's heyday, 90 percent of sixth-graders spent the week testing water samples. They studied fungi and dug through topsoil. Today, just half of Oregon's 11- and 12-year-olds take part. This is accomplished mostly through a patchwork of grants, fundraising, parent fees and charitable donations. Caps on property taxes, plus the recent recession, have forced many school districts to scrap the program. Some have whittled it down to just a few days.
 
Now, backers of a statewide ballot measure want to use a slice of lottery proceeds to guarantee a week of Outdoor School for all children. If it passes, the measure would make Oregon the only state with dedicated funding for outdoor education, said Sarah Bodor. She is policy director for the North American Association for Environmental Education.
 
Opponents, however, say its passage would mean deep cuts to a state agency tasked with economic development. They say it would siphon away millions in lottery money critical to expanding Oregon business. And at least one outspoken state lawmaker worries Measure 99 would impose liberal Portland's values on children in rural Oregon. That's where farming, mining, logging and fishing are a way of life.
 
The push to fund Outdoor School dovetails with a national trend toward outdoor learning, Bodor said. More than two dozen states have developed environmental literacy plans. Educators have realized the importance of outdoor time for developing critical thinking and leadership skills, she said.
 
"But these are really unfunded mandates and ... the outdoor component is the piece that very often gets left behind," Bodor said.
 
Measure 99 would cover that unfunded cost by taking up to $22 million - or 4 percent a quarter - from the state lottery's economic development fund to send 50,000 fifth- or sixth-graders to Outdoor School each year. The Oregon State University Extension Service would dole out the money to school districts. How it will work will be determined if the measure passes.
 
Applying for the lottery funds would be voluntary. Schools, educational districts and nonprofits that already run Outdoor Schools around the state could continue to do so.
 
To get the state funding, programs would have to meet certain criteria. These include a curriculum that includes the study of plants, animals, soil and water; discussion of the role of natural resources in the state economy; and lessons on the relationship between economic growth, natural resources and conservation.
 
"This is not a mandate. It's an offer. And we wanted to make sure it was a real one, which means providing sufficient funding to cover the cost of a good, high-quality program," said Rex Burkholder, chairman of the Measure 99 campaign committee.
 
As of two weeks before the election, Measure 99 had no organized opposition. Polls indicated it would pass. But not everyone is buying it.
 
State Sen. Betsy Johnson is a Democrat who represents a rural district northwest of Portland. She says lottery proceeds are for economic development, not camp. She worries Oregonians who remember their own Outdoor School experience will vote for the measure out of nostalgia without understanding it could hurt other programs.
 
Economic Development for Central Oregon, a nonprofit that promotes job growth, says the money for Outdoor School would be equivalent to 70 percent of the budget for the state's economic development agency, which relies on lottery money. Efforts to bring television productions like "Grimm," ''Leverage" and "Portlandia" to Oregon could suffer as a result, it said.
 
"It's so feel-good, it's so 'Oregon' that I just worry that people are not going to give it the level of scrutiny it deserves," Johnson said. "The assumption is Outdoor School ... will produce better citizens and good Oregonians. What's my metric to know if that really happens?"
 
Supporters point to a Portland State University study. It found that students who participated in Outdoor School had improved attendance. They also highlight surveys by the Multnomah Education Service District. It provides 7,000 students a year with Outdoor School, and the surveys show the program boosts self-confidence and interest in math and science.
 
At a recent five-day camp in Mount Hood National Forest, sixth-graders from Portland's Jackson Middle School seemed unaware of the politics surrounding their adventure.
 
As a light drizzle fell, they dipped nets into a fog-cloaked pond. They were surrounded by stands of Douglas fir trees. The students sketched water bugs in notebooks and tested the water's acidity and turbidity as rainbow trout jumped just a few feet away. Each child wore a "wood cookie," a cross-section of a small log. It was decorated with beaded pins to denote their completion of field studies on plants, animals, soil and water.
 
"It's definitely better out here," said 11-year-old Maya Herring. She showed off her wood cookie festooned with beads and bling awarded by her counselor.
 
"You can actually feel the nature. It's not just saying, 'This is what this fern looks like.' You can actually feel the fern for yourself."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why is there a national trend toward outdoor learning?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (52)
  • vcara-dav
    11/18/2016 - 10:54 p.m.

    In response to "Should All Children Get An Outdoor Education?," I agree that all children should get an outdoor education. One reason I agree is that surveys show that after the week of outdoor school, student attendance improved. Self confidence was also boosted, and that is a crucial thing for a kid to have. Another reason is that it would stimulate interest in math and the sciences, as well as the fact that the learning would be more hands on. It says in the article, "'It's definitely better out here,' said 11-year-old Maya Herring.She showed off her wood cookie festooned with beads and bling awarded by her counselor. 'You can actually feel the nature. It's not just saying, 'This is what this fern looks like.' You can actually feel the fern for yourself.'This shows that some of the kids enjoy learning outdoors way more than indoors. Even though it might have to cause some economic changes, I think that as a whole outdoor learning would benefit society greatly.

  • vmargaret-dav
    11/21/2016 - 05:12 p.m.

    In response to "Should all children get an outdoor education?" I agree that children should get an outdoor education. One reason I agree is that I think hands on education is another way to help kids learn things. Another reason is that is it better for kids to be outside an walking around while learning than sitting in a desk most of the day. It says in the article, "At the program's heyday, 90 percent of sixth-graders spent the week testing water samples. They studied fungi and dug through topsoil." A third reason is that studies show most kids gain an interest in math and science. Even though some kids would rather be in an air conditioned room the whole day, I think that kids would enjoy an outdoor education.

  • brycew-orv
    11/30/2016 - 04:22 p.m.

    I never knew about this and even if I did a lot more people would have said more about it, some think this is a bad choice of words saying why is there a national trend outdoor learning.

  • katelyn3-war
    12/02/2016 - 12:12 p.m.

    There is a national trend toward outdoor learning because many parents are tired of the tests that their children have to take all throughout traditional schooling. It also helps children get active instead of sitting in a room all day not moving around, being outside will help their health and their creativity. The outdoors is also important for children to learn about because it teaches them basics skills and education people should have.

  • zlily-dav
    12/07/2016 - 11:03 p.m.

    In response to the article, “Should all children get an outdoor education?" I agree that funding the Outdoor School with lottery funds is a good idea because it increases school attendance, gets more kids interested in math and science, and it provides students with hands-on experience. One reason I support this is I believe that getting students out of the classroom to learn will make them want to go to school. For example, in the text it states, “students who participated in Outdoor School had improved attendance.” Often kids get tired of going to school so anything that encourages them to go is a good thing. Another reason I like the Outdoor School is that it gets kids interested in science and math. In the article, it says, “surveys show the program boosts self-confidence and interest in math and science.” Many jobs today require a math or science background and a program like this will help get kids into those fields when they are adults. My third reason for supporting this program is that it gives kids a chance to do hands-on activities. For instance, in the text it states, “The students sketched water bugs in notebooks and tested the water's acidity and turbidity as rainbow trout jumped just a few feet away.” One student in the program said, “You can actually feel the nature. It’s not just saying, “This is what this fern looks like.’ You can actually feel the fern for yourself.” I personally learn better from hands-on experience so I can relate to this. Even though some people think that it is too pricey to have programs like outdoor education, I think the positives outweigh the negatives. More states need to have programs like this.

  • fpresley-dav
    12/08/2016 - 04:33 p.m.

    In response to "Should all children get an outdoor education?," I agree that kids should get some of an outdoor education. One reason I agree is that kids usually enjoy being able to leave the school grounds even though they will still be doing school work. Another reason is that being outdoor would help teach subjects like science. This would also make learning science more fun. It says in the article,"At the program's heyday, 90 percent of sixth-graders spent the week testing water samples." A third reason is that teachers can get tired of teaching the same exact way. Some teachers probably also want to get out of their classroom sometimes. Even though it is expensive and kids could slack off, I think kids should get an outdoor education.

  • bmaria-dav
    12/08/2016 - 08:36 p.m.

    In response to "Should all children get an outdoor education," I agree and disagree that all children should get an outdoor education. One reason I agree is that you get to actually go outside, and breath fresh air, instead of sitting in a classroom. A reason that I disagree is that the program needs a lot of funding, that the state could not have at the time. It says in the article "It found that students involved in the Outdoor School had improved attendance" this shows that, children like the outdoors better than a school environment. Even though you could get a lot of bug bites, I think that this is a great opportunity for student to learn about the ourtdoors.

  • reids-blo
    1/05/2017 - 12:02 p.m.

    I learned that it takes lots of money to do field trips like this which is hard to get. A pro of this is it boost self confidence and interest in math and science. A con would be that it takes lots of money to do this. I think that school should have to give a one week outdoor learning section.

  • samv1-blo
    1/05/2017 - 12:06 p.m.

    This article is about a school in Oregon that is pushing the Oregon lottery to fund there outdoor learning project for fifth and sixth graders. They believe that outdoor hands on learning is crucial to developing students science knowledge. Some pros to this project is that it really helps kids learn to love science and understand it more. It also is a great experience for the kids. Some cons are that the lottery was not made to fund schools and this program is only for a week and is for younger students who have trouble remembering things they learned. I believe that if the students ans school were to raise money and make cute so allow a couple days throughout there years of school to go and do outdoor learning or do it regularly but in a cheaper way then it seems like a great idea.

  • sydnet-blo
    1/05/2017 - 12:06 p.m.

    What I learned about outdoor classes. I thought it was very interesting that they gave each kid a "wood cookie". It had beads, pins, all sorts of fun things to show that completed each station. I think a pro of having an outdoor class is that the kids get to learn hands on and see it as it's happening, not in a class room on the computer. Cons well there's quite a few, like money. Money always gets in the way of a lot of things and they might not be albe to have a caritiy event or donations.I think kids should have the opertonitey to be albe to go out and learn stuff hands on and see it person and watch it as its happening. The attention spand of a kid is very short, but I think that they would be extremly interested in hands on.

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