Three Emerging Leaders Remember Outdoor School
Who sits on OEC’s Emerging Leaders Board? Young professionals with a drive to protect the Oregon way of life. And since the late 1950s, Outdoor School has been part of that lifestyle. It used to be that every sixth grader in the state of Oregon spent a week at Outdoor School learning about natural sciences in the best place possible: nature.
“Oregon’s economy and employment are based on its bountiful natural resources: timber, recreational opportunities, agricultural products, water, wildlife, and minerals. The extent to which Oregon’s youngsters learn to understand and wisely use their natural resources today will largely determine their economic security in the future. Outdoor School teaches children about the natural sciences so they can use that information as adults to become knowledgeable citizens and voters,” says MESD’s Outdoor School website.
Shrinking educational budgets have resulted in Outdoor School cuts–not a best case scenario for the Oregon way of life. Outdoor School for All, endorsed by OEC, is trying to ensure every sixth grader in Oregon has the opportunity to go to Outdoor School. Right now, they are collecting signatures and hope to be on the fall ballot.
We interviewed three of our Emerging Leaders Board members who grew up in Oregon to learn a bit about how Outdoor School shaped their lives.
Rithy Khut: “I was a sixth grader at Sandy River and student field leader at Camp Namanu in Clackamas County seven times. It was a formative experience for appreciating nature; I didn’t have much of a connection to nature before going to Outdoor School.
I was from a middle-class immigrant family. The goal was to do well in school, do well in math, become an engineer or doctor, and not to focus on extracurricular activities. We didn’t go out in nature. We didn’t experience the outdoors. I lived right next door to Mt. Tabor, but I very rarely went there as a kid. Outdoor School was my first experience being away from home and being in nature for a suspended period of time.
Going to Outdoor School as a sixth grader had such an impact on me that I became a student leader. That directly tied into me receiving a BA in Environmental Studies and working in the Outdoor Program at the University of Oregon as a college student. Today, I love to kayak and raft. You don’t see many people of color doing those things. Outdoor School opened doors for me.”
Nathan Howard: “Sixth grade was tough. There was turmoil at home. I started looking forward to Outdoor School–anticipating a reprieve. I went to Camp Namanu, and I remember the first time that I met my bunk mates. It was like immediately making a dozen new friends. Being at Outdoor School was a new experience for me. We learned about watersheds, arthropods, different types of trees, campfire, healthful meals.
Prior to Outdoor School, I hadn’t camped much; throwing dirt clods and spraying super soakers was more my outdoor experience. At the time, Outdoor School felt like a jungle to me.
I gained a new appreciation for animals and plants at Outdoor School. I wasn’t really enthralled by salamanders or different types of arthropods before that week. It broadened my horizons a little bit and made me more open to getting excited about science.
Getting students out in nature should be prioritized–bad policy is rooted in the idea that humans are outside of nature when in reality we are all part of the big picture. Outdoor School helps people understand that there really isn’t a separation, we’re all in this weird thing called life together, and Outdoor School does a really great job of teaching that lesson.”
Fletcher Beaudoin: “I grew up in Ashland and spent my whole childhood going backpacking in Southern Oregon and Northern California. Outdoor School let me share nature with my friends who didn’t get that experience with their family. It was an awesome way to go into middle school. It brings you out of your normal routine.
One vivid memory I have is making ice cream in a big group outside then later eating it together to watch the sunset at the lake pier. I also have a distinct memory of building an outdoor shelter with two other kids. It was a really interesting experience trying to find the right space in nature. I remember it was raining and things were a little bit frantic. But in the end, my group had one of the more durable and least wet shelters.
Outdoor School is a very Oregon idea that reinforces the belief that growing up in Oregon means having a connection and comfort with nature. As a new father, I plan to take my newborn hiking as much as possible. As the world becomes more urbanized we need spaces that are natural. And we need to feel comfortable in those spaces.
Outdoor School means that everyone gets that chance for one week to learn how to engage and feel comfortable with nature. It’s very much an Oregon thing, and I hope future generations have the same opportunities that I did.”
Visit Outdoor School for All to learn more about how you can help this measure get on the ballot this fall.