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)
  • annaf-blo
    1/05/2017 - 12:42 p.m.

    I found it interesting that they would have thought of having the money come from the lottery but, I also think it is a good idea. There many pros to outdoor education and the lottery funding it. A few are that this program is said to improve attendance, self-confidence, and interest in math and science. Unfortunetly this program does has some downsides such as it is very expensive and some people think that the lottery money should not go to the school but to buisnesses instead. I feel that a portion of the lottery should go to project 99 because it helps students in many ways.

  • tatep-blo
    1/05/2017 - 12:52 p.m.

    I learned that these events are hard to do with the fact that they can only be funded by charitable donations and fundraising. It can siphon millions of dollars, Schools cant go for a full week so they just go for a few days instead. On the bright side It provides 7,000 students each year, and has more study of plants, water and soil.My opinion is that we should have the program honestly, I like nature and would love to do this.

  • tja-blo
    1/05/2017 - 12:55 p.m.

    Something I found interesting about outdoor learning is how many people support it despite the high costs, and how much the children seem to like it too. Outdoor education comes with several pros and cons. Some pros are that it helps the students learn and provides a change to the regular schedules and could actually improve learning skills, plus the kids seem to enjoy it. The big con however, is that it costs 88 Million dollars a year, which is a lot of money that will have to be cut from other activities. Personally, I don't believe it is worth it to spend 88 Million dollars, an additional 77% to what the entire education system is already running off of, to do fun activities outside for a week.

  • kaitlynn-blo
    1/05/2017 - 01:00 p.m.

    I learned that It's much harder to earn money to go do a field trip. I also learned that a lot of schools are cutting this outdoor field trip from their curriculum and that's not right because kids need outdoor education, and if they not have that, they won't know much about the outdoors. Some pros are: better literacy after the course, improved critical thinking, and better leadership skills. Some cons about this is: Money is the main issue because it's hard to afford, they are needing to fund and are depending on grants. I think we should let them have money from the lottery because our future is more important and it's good to get the kids out of the classroom and feel the outdoors because It's important to them.

  • rachele-blo
    1/05/2017 - 01:00 p.m.

    I learned that children ages 11-12 in Oregon are given the opportunity to study outdoors. There are pros and cons to letting children study outdoors. Letting children study outdoors teaches them about their environment and how to care for it. Children are able to explore new things and branch out to new careers involving the environment and nature. But being able to transport the children to learning centers and parks will cost money and need volunteers. In my opinion I think having children study outdoors makes them aware of what is happening in their environment and how to look after it. I think that all schools should have a few days to just study outdoors and learn while having fun!

  • myab-blo
    1/05/2017 - 01:08 p.m.

    I learned that spending a week outdoors for outdoor education you have an improved attendance the program also boosts self-confidence and interest in math and science. There are pros and cons, the kids are better in school and learn about their environment, but it takes away from them learning about other more important things. I think we should have an outdoor education program because it improves their learning capability and you get to learn about your own environment.

  • gracer-blo
    1/05/2017 - 01:10 p.m.

    This article has a great extent to many pros and cons. In this article I learned that many school have a promblem, where they have to cut out the less important projects. Some of the pros are having more outdoor education.This would be kids expanding their knowledge and more of them going into a career in science. There are also cons about childrens education outdoors. Their biggest promblem is money. Money can be a hard thing to get. Especially when outdoor teaching isn't always a priority. My opinion is that all children should have an outdoor education, but one day would be cheaper insted of a whole week.

  • adries-blo
    1/05/2017 - 01:45 p.m.

    I had no idea that outdoor education funding was such a problem for schools and communities. I learned that outdoor education is important to kids because it makes them aware of how things thrive in the wild. One of the cons is that it takes a huge sum of money to fund the program, and the schools want to take some of the lottery money, which is used for economic development, to fund their trips. The pros to this idea is that 7,000 kids go to outdoor education and the kids who go have better attendance at school. I support the idea of a week learning outside and exploring the wilderness.

  • kaceyk-blo
    1/05/2017 - 01:50 p.m.

    There are many pros and cons to having outdoor class. In this article I thought it was intresting how the students get more intrested in math and science. The main problem of doing this is the money. They want to take some of the lottery money to support the outdoor class, but then there's less money for all the other cooperations. Some of the good things to this is students get more intrested in school, they have better attendance, and the program boost self confidence. I would love to have my school do that.

  • gabec-blo
    1/05/2017 - 03:48 p.m.

    Every child should have an outdoor education. I learned that more student came to school when their was an outdoor program. A pro would be student get outside for a day and see nature. A con would be the funding to go on the trip. My opinion is that every student should get an outdoor education. I think it is very important for kids to learn bout their environment. Then they can see what is really happing to the world. This way kids will know how to treat the environment and pass it onto there kids.

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