In my hometown of Portland Oregon, one of the biggest events of sixth grade (the first of the three years of middle school — as opposed to the two years of "junior high" that I've heard of in other states) was a little something called "outdoor school".

Outdoor school was five days at a camp somewhere in the forests of western Oregon. A couple of weeks prior to going, our classes focused mostly on lessons about nature. We would learn things about soil

"Don't call it dirt," Mr. Hartinger would say, "dirt is what you get on your shirt. This is soil."
as well as water, air, et cetera.

I recall we had all these little mimeographed (remember mimeographs with the smelly warm purple ink?) notebooks with the illustrations all done by our teachers.

Each sixth-grade class seemed to go to a different camp. My class happened to go to a camp called "Arrah Wanna" (which became the big joke around school because of it's rhyming with marijuana). The only other camp I know of was called "Howard".

On a Sunday, April 18th 1982 my class all boarded a big yellow school bus outside of Fernwood Middle School (go Falcons!) and we were off. The trip seemed to take one or two hours and I think we headed west towards the ocean.

Upon arriving at the camp, we were all assigned our various cabins where we would sleep. We were warned that in the evening after lights went out, that we shouldn't stay up late talking or horsing around. To let us know how "serious" they were about this they said they had installed devices in each cabin called "R2-D2's" (this being 1982 after all) that would tell them if we were goofing around. We all thought they were using a tape recorder or something but, alas, our search for one was fruitless ("yes, we have no bananas"). Thinking about it now, I assume a counselor just walked once around the camp an after dark. (Incidentally, my cabin (Moose cabin) was singled out on more than one occasion for being noisy after lights out.)

A little something about the counselors — there were two kinds: the SCs (senior counselors) and the JCs (junior counselors).

The SCs were adults — you've seen them, I've seen them, we all know what they look like, and when your 12 years old they all look old and like weird bootleg versions of your parents — let's not talk about them anymore shall we?

The greatest part of outdoor school was definately the JCs. These were high-school seniors from various Portland-area schools and they were just the cats pajamas. They were so full of "I'm going to college in five months" energy and they all had cool nicknames (ex: "K.C.", "Blue Bear", "Summit") instead of using their real names. They were a hoot.

Can I remember everything that I learned at outdoor school? Um, no.

I do remember that the JC that taught us about soil did not make us lick a slug. That was the big fear at outdoor school — we had all been told that we would have to lick a slug so we, too, could experience the numbing of our tongues.

We had all been given these little necklaces with a circular piece of wood with our names on them. As we attended different courses throughout the week, we amassed little laminated stamps that were taped to our necklace -- kinda like cub scouts in a way I s'pose. Up until a few years ago I still had mine.

For lunch one day we separated into teams comprised of our cabin occupants and we all cooked hamburgers on what was called a "hobo stove". We had made them back at our school when we had been cramming for outdoor school. They were large coffee cans with one end cut off and some holes for venting. I remember eating at least three burgers that day.

Goodness, gracious, me-oh-my... outdoor school was fun and if it weren't for the dodgy academic performance of my senior year I was all set to spend a week talking about soil and worms.

I'm not sure if any of the other states have an outdoor school or not, it may be strictly an Oregon thing.

Say, any other outdoor school grads out there?

Other E2 members who've attended outdoor school include:

For the love of Pete, if you also attended outdoor school, don't hide your light under a bushel... /msg me!

A quick overview of what ODS is after thirty five years. There are five different camps, Namanu, Howard, Collins, Sandy River, and Arrah Wanna. Four classes of 6th graders stay together at one of the five ODS sites for five days. Depending on the site, there are seven different weeks in the spring and fall session. Multnomah Educational Service District has been running Outdoor school for 35 years. Around 400,000 students have gone over the years.

I am writing this as a student that went to Outdoor School and a five time Student Leader. Being a Student Leader is the most challenging thing I have ever done. Each Student Leader is placed in a cabin with eight to twelve students of the same sex. As a student leader I was expected to create a safe environment for my students, you would never guess how many of them have never been away overnight from home before. One of the biggest challenges is making it to places on time. It one thing to schedule your own time but it's an entire new game to plan for eight sixth graders that get distracted even when they want to be doing what your want them to be doing. ODS is oiled with the blood of the of the Student Leaders, every second of the day is planned out. But it's well worth it, even if I have to wake up four hours earlier then normal.

Over the five days each class rotates through one of the four Field Studies. Plants, Animals, Soil, and Water. Each SL gets to choose to an extent what Field Study or Resource they teach on. Each day a student is on a different resource with the same group of two to four other students from their class, but with a new SL. Each Field Study is quite separate from the others, I teach on Plants so I don't know much about how the other Field Studies run.

On Plants Field Study I either go on a set hike in the morning or afternoon and the other time I go on to different rotation activities. The different rotation activities are Forestry Tools, ethnobotany, Fungus, Mosses and Lichens, Seed Dispersal, Tree Parts, and Flower Parts in the spring session. The goal is to get the information across in ways that all different types of learners can appreciate(stories are good), then discuss the topic and have them go over what they learned in writing, drawing, discussion, skit, or whatever works best.

Over the decade the State of Oregon has been cutting funding for Public Education. In addition to that, a statewide budget shortfall this term of nearly one billion dollars. Every school district except Reynolds and another smaller district has voted to cut Outdoor School, including Portland Public. Outdoor School currently has seven thousand students a year, this number will drop around seven hundred next year. This will cause four of the five sites to shutdown and spring or winter session to be eliminated. Once this has happened there is no going back, once funding is cut for a program in a financial crunch it is not reformed, as we have seen with library staff, choir, P.E. and string instruments.

This is not just five days in the woods for the students. Outdoor School teaches people how to interact with a community and the environment. For most students, just being away from the life that they live and given responsibilities causes immense mental growth and they interact better in any social group.

When will we learn that undermining basic education is not wise?

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