A couple Mondays ago, 50 some people gathered at Obsidian School in Redmond to discuss a way in which Outdoor School could be enjoyed by all of the almost 50,000 fifth and sixth grade students in Oregon.
To their utter joy, they all discovered it could happen.
This may sound nearly impossible when the state legislature just passed a budget for funding schools that was inadequate for general education, but the outdoor school coalition has discovered other ways to fund the program.
House Bill 2648, "Outdoor School Bill - It Changes Lives" is in the House Revenue Committee, and just in case it dies, Senate Bill 439 is in the Ways and Means Committee.
The action needed for these bills is an amendment in committee to attach a mechanism for full funding at $22 million. That would cover administration, program fees, transportation, tuition, and room and board to send all Oregon fifth and sixth grade students to a full week (five nights and six days) of Outdoor School, or comparable outdoor education reflecting local needs.
Twenty-two million dollars per year would come from a fee imposed on all disposal sites that receive domestic solid waste through a $4.40 increase in the tipping fee. That equates to less than $10 per year, per family. As one middle school student put it, "That's two five-buck lunch meals at Dairy Queen. I'd give up Dairy Queen to go to Outdoor School."
Another source of income for Outdoor School would be from unclaimed bottle deposit funds. In 2017, the sources of funds for the Outdoor Education Fund will be a portion of unclaimed returnable bottle deposits currently retained by beverage distributors in an amount not to exceed $22 million per year.
From 6:30 until after 8 pm two Monday evenings ago, people involved with Outdoor School gave their testimonies as to the individual values to people, our society, and the environment, for those who attended Outdoor School in the 57 years the program has been available to students.
The title of the bill now bouncing around with the other 5,000 or so in Salem is an accurate statement, "It Changes Lives." It has, it does, and it will continue to do so because of what the program offers young people.
Yes, the students learn about soil, water, plants, and animals, but while that's going on they're learning about themselves as they interact with other students—many who will in that six-day period become life-long friends—they also begin to see their niche in life. This is especially true for the high school counselors who live with the students day and night.
Lillian McNeill, a 17-year-old Summit High student, has served as a counselor at the Camp Tamarack Outdoor School facility. Like many high school counselors before her, she too has captured the life-changing power of working outdoors with young people, sharing their personal thoughts, fears and hopes.
"Outdoor School has become an outlet for me to express my passion for the outdoors, and getting the community involved," McNeill says. "It has become a second home for me and I've created strong, long-lasting relationships with some amazing people; without Outdoor School I would not be the person I am today. I try to pass this passion and love for the outdoors along to the students at camp by teaching them about our environment and how we can make positive impacts."
One can magnify these statements to include just about every chid who has had an Outdoor School adventure. Students from different schools and different ways of life come together and blend into what is almost a family for a week of eating, hiking, playing, learning, singing, and being in touch with each other constantly; finding safety in those associations is difficult not to miss.
The power to change lives is also well stated by Camp Tamarack Outdoor School's site supervisor Abigail "Orion" Clark, "The ability for kids in Oregon to go to Outdoor School will help to develop a wider sense of stewardship for protecting the beautiful state I have come to love."
People can help by contacting their representatives and asking them to pass along support for Outdoor School to those involved in the budgeting process, to insure that Outdoor School will be available for every fifth and sixth grader in Oregon's schools.