Oregonians should sign Outdoor School petition

By Jennifer Prince
Op-Ed Published on OregonLive, June 8, 2016

For nearly 60 years, Outdoor School has provided high-quality, place-based science education to generations of Oregon students. Maintaining Oregon's natural legacy in an increasingly complex world requires that we raise future generations to value and respect the land, the opportunities it offers us and the responsibility it requires. The best way to do this is to give our kids hands-on, outdoor educational experiences. And the only way to do that is by fully funding Outdoor School for all children in Oregon.

The Outdoor School for All initiative proposes setting aside 4 percent of lottery proceeds, not to exceed $22 million annually, to fund a full week of outdoor school programing for every Oregon fifth- or sixth-grader.

Today Outdoor School remains true to its roots, engaging thousands of fifth- and sixth-graders with nature and using hands-on field science to teach them about Oregon's natural resources. Despite the enormous success of many of Oregon's Outdoor School programs, budget cuts and unstable funding have created an inequitable situation where half of our students are denied any opportunity to attend and benefit from the invaluable experience, and most students that do go have a shortened program.

Getting outdoors, out of the classroom and immersed in how our natural world works inspires kids, opening up the future possibilities they had never dreamed of before. That's why places like Tillamook County and Corbett, communities that rely heavily on natural resources for their economic base, are such strong believers in outdoor education.

For many kids throughout the state, regardless of whether they are from our larger urban areas or smaller rural communities, Outdoor School is their first educational experience outdoors. If we are going to train, motivate, inspire and recruit the next generation of leaders, workers and outdoor enthusiasts and continue to honor our natural heritage as both an economic engine and living treasure, then a solid foundation in outdoor and natural resource education is vital.

As a 25-year educator, Outdoor School participant, former sixth-grade teacher and parent, I've seen firsthand the powerful positive educational experience students gain at Outdoor School. Countless graduating high school seniors have noted that their time at Outdoor School was the single most important experience in their school years. Across the state, educators, scientists and natural resource professionals credit their experience at Outdoor School as the spark that led to their careers.

Districts across the state have been fighting for consistent, additional funding for Outdoor School for years. The program is a proven way to increase test scores, attendance, citizenship, self-sufficiency, collaboration and more. One week of outdoor education seems the minimum we can offer our kids when you consider the importance and value of our natural resources in Oregon. The Outdoor School for All campaign is the next logical step towards getting funding for every kid in Oregon.  

Securing funding will allow all Oregon kids, from both rural and urban areas, regardless of income or background, to attend one week of hands-on education that not only helps them achieve state education standards but gives them a shared experience of what it means to be an Oregonian. Far from being outside the original intent, supporting Outdoor School is a strong fit for exactly what lottery funding should be used for — supporting and fostering economic growth on both a short- and long-term basis. And that's an investment in our future worth making.

Please join me in supporting our children and our future by signing the Outdoor School for All initiative petition. For more information, please visit OutdoorSchoolforAll.org.

Jennifer Prince, a teacher, lives in Corbett.

 

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