Making it Work for More Oregon Students
Outdoor School for All
In 2016, Oregon voters directed a portion of Lottery funds to help support Outdoor School. For kids in Oregon’s rural counties, that meant that programs could be customized to meet their communities’ unique needs.
Customizing Outdoor School for Rural Oregon
Magical things happen when teachers take the classroom outdoors. Lessons transform into unforgettable experiences, natural objects become teaching materials, and students take away happy memories formed in some of Oregon’s most beautiful natural settings. Many of us have fond memories of attending Outdoor School, a tradition that’s existed in Oregon schools for over 50 years. While it’s practically a rite of passage for 5th and 6th graders, in some Oregon counties, it’s a challenging program to implement.
Harney County is in one of the most rural and remote regions in Oregon. For years, only two of the county’s seven school districts offered Outdoor School. Some schools are simply so small that they don’t regularly have eligible students, but for others, the timing can be difficult for students and their families. Since many of Harney County’s students live on working farms and ranches, arranging overnight trips during their busy seasons presents a challenge.
All photos, except where indicated, by Max Benz.
Harney County Finds a Way
Bridging the Gap
Despite the unique challenges faced by rural school districts in participating in Outdoor School, a little creativity helped Harney County get their kids involved.
New Funding / New Opportunities
In 2016, Oregon voters expressed just how much they value Outdoor School by adding it to the programs bolstered by lottery revenue. For Harney County, that additional funding meant that their schools were able to develop programs that met their unique needs and seasonal challenges.
Instead of only 5th and 6th graders, all of Harney County’s K-8 students now have the opportunity to participate in Outdoor School programs, helping to make participation a consistent feature of each school year.
Planning paid off starting in October 2022 (after a pandemic-related delay), as Harney County students headed north for OMSI Camp Hancock in Wasco County for an almost magical Outdoor School experience. There, students were able to visit another part of the state while learning about fossil beds, canyons, and archaeological sites.
Get to Know Harney County
Located in southeastern Oregon, Harney County has all the open country you could ask for. It’s home to big skies, high desert, and a breathtaking night sky. If you’ve never had the chance to explore the area, craft your own adventure and plan a visit to a few of the its state parks and heritage sites.
Harney County may be in Oregon’s high desert, but there’s no shortage of wildlife wherever you look. It’s especially famous among bird enthusiasts. Attracted to abundant water resources, a variety of birds call this area home, including avocets, stilts, willets, killdeers, coots, phalaropes, and so many more. The spring songbird migration is not to be missed!
Photo: Wildhorse Lake in Steens Mountain by Gary Halvorson
Oregon Lottery + Outdoor School
What A Team
For decades Oregon has prioritized the importance of hands-on learning by getting students outside to explore environmental and natural sciences amid the natural beauty of our state. When Oregonians voted to allot 4% of Lottery revenue to support Outdoor School programs, it tasked the Oregon State University Extension Service with facilitating the program throughout the state. The Extension Service is historically immersed in all things “Oregon outdoors,” making it uniquely qualified to administer the new funding.
Thanks to their efforts and the revenue made possible by your lottery play (thank you!), more Oregon schools than ever are able to support traditional curriculum with an overnight camp experience — and the number is growing.
More outdoor school stories
Camp Lane hosts Triangle Lake Outdoor School
With help from over $13,000 in Lottery support, Triangle Lake Charter school students get to enjoy the truly Oregonian experience of Outdoor School where the classroom is our great outdoors. See their Camp Lane adventure!
Coos Bay Adventures at OMSI’s Camp Grey
Connecting students with nature is a very good thing. That’s why Oregon voters dedicated Lottery dollars to help support Outdoor School programs. In the case of the Coos Bay School District, this made their outdoor school program available to their community students. In 2016, the OMSI Coastal Discovery Center at Camp Grey opened with the promise to be the largest outdoor science camp in the Oregon. Coos Bay School District Superintendent Bryan Trendell shared, “To send 235 students to Camp Grey, it will cost $44,000. We didn’t know what funding was going to look like.” Lottery funding to more than cover their costs arrived shortly after winter break. With much excitement, Trendell reported, “The great thing is that the total funding will take care of transportation, meals, and the facility. Everything to do with Camp Grey is taken care of!” For the Coos Bay School district, Lottery funding provides their students, their future leaders with a life-enhancing Outdoor School experience. When you play, good things happen for the schools throughout Oregon.
A Small District Dives In
Milton-Freewater may be a small, rural school district, but the new Outdoor School program has already had a big impact. Approximately 135 fifth-graders participated in the inaugural two-night/three-day outdoor school at Buck Creek Campground, made possible in part due to new lottery funding. “We had the opportunity to get the kids away from the iPads and the laptops and get their hands on the soil and water instead — something a lot of our kids don’t have the opportunity to do,” said Principal Don Davis. “All in all, the program was a success and could not have happened had it not been funded. We purchased sleeping bags, cots, binoculars and other essential outdoor items, and all was paid for because Oregonians voted to have the funds appropriated.” Needless to say, the district, parents and the kids are all knee-deep in planning their next Outdoor School adventure.
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