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?