Group works to stem Outdoor School budget cuts, expand program

KATU file photo.

It's quintessentially Oregon: Taking what you learn in the classroom outdoors.

For many Oregon children spending a week at Outdoor School with your classmates has been a rite of passage for decades. But over the years, budget cuts have sliced away at the experience and fewer than half of Oregon sixth-graders now get that chance.

But there is a group determined to change that. This weekend Save Outdoor School for All launched an effort to gather 120,000 signatures that would give Oregon voters the chance to fully fund Outdoor School for every child. Joining the effort is Portland-based shoe company Keen.

"If you don't have those experiences young in life, you won't have a lifelong appreciation for parks and natural areas, conservation and ultimately protecting the places where we play," said Chris Enlow, with Keen Corporate Responsibility.

The Audubon Society is also taking part.

"We're trying to connect with people from all over the state to show them what a great opportunity this is, that it won't raise taxes, and it will give their kids access to nature," said Nick Hardigg, executive director of the Audubon Society of Portland.

Millions of Oregon middle school students have experienced Outdoor School since the 1950s.

Some thoughts from those who have gone through the program:

"For me it just brings together and culminates all of the things I feel really strongly about from hands on education to environmental science," said Darcie "Antler" Semler, who also recently attended the school.

"So when you actually go back into the classroom and learn about it, you can think, 'Oh yeah, I remember, we went out and did this.' It does really happen out there, not just a thing that you read in a textbook," said Katherine Champion, who also recently attended Outdoor School.

"You learn a lot about yourself, and I think you're more yourself than you are anywhere else," said recent Outdoor School attendee Olivia "Toastie" Bozart.

If the group Save Outdoor School for All gets enough signatures, voters will have a chance to vote on funding on the November ballot.

Taxes wouldn't go up because the funding would come from Oregon Lottery money that isn't already designated for other programs.

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