CORVALLIS, Ore. - The new statewide Outdoor School, a program that provides fifth- and sixth-grade students with at least three days of outdoor education, has begun notifying school districts that they will receive funding for the 2017-18 school year.
Outdoor School was able to provide funding to all 115 districts in 29 Oregon counties that applied for the current school year. That group includes 86 schools that are new to offering the program. Some districts have already held Outdoor School this fall and they will be able to use this funding to offset those costs, said Kristopher Elliott, an Oregon State University Extension Service assistant director who leads the program.
“We were thrilled to honor every school’s general funding request enabling them to offer the Outdoor School experience to their students,” Elliott said. “The response from schools was encouraging to say the least, and reflects the feeling across the state that Outdoor School can make a positive difference in children’s lives.”
The districts requested a total of $8,855,206, with a projected total of 36,248 students participating. The goal, based on available funding, was to have a 45 percent student participation rate for 2017-18, and the current numbers reflect closer to a 75 percent participation rate for this school year, Elliott said. OSU Extension will provide a report this summer on first-year participation and total money allocated, among other things.
In November 2016, Oregon voters approved Ballot Measure 99, designating funding for statewide Outdoor School programming for public school districts and education service districts to serve fifth- or sixth-grade students in Oregon.
The 2015 legislature had already charged Oregon State University Extension with administering the statewide program when funding became available. In July of this year, lawmakers approved $24 million for the program’s first two years.
The funding process, outlined on the Outdoor School website, required two steps, Elliott explained. First, school districts and ESDs entered into an intergovernmental “master agreement” with OSU. Once the master agreement was completed, districts submitted funding applications for review.
The funding application process for the 2018-19 school year will begin this spring.
School districts and ESDs are free to design their own outdoor curriculum, Elliott said, as long as the instruction meets the educational goals set forth in the 2015 legislation.
“We know some districts may not have a lot of experience in developing outdoor education,” he said. “During the first year, we’ll try to connect these districts with others that have more-established programs. The Outdoor School team will continue to deliver more resources as we fully implement the program, including a curriculum-rubric guide in early 2018.”
Outdoor educational experiences were common for Oregon’s middle-schoolers in the 1960s and ’70s, but recession-related funding cuts and property tax limitation measures forced many school districts to reduce or cut their outdoor programs.
Outdoor School features a diverse advisory committee that includes the Gray Family Foundation, Straub Environmental Center, Women for Agriculture, Oregon Forest Resources Institute, school districts, interested citizens and other community partners.