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Timber Joey to kick off Outdoor School for All with giant wood 'cookie'

Metro, other agencies hold round of public meetings to launch effort

Outdoor School for All

The Oregon Outdoor Education Coalition will launch its Outdoor School for All campaign to the public Friday, Jan. 30, with a kickoff at the World Forestry Center set for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Timber Joey will be cutting the world’s largest “wood cookie,” inspired by the tree stump name tags worn by everyone at Outdoor School.

There will be camp songs, testimonials from students and alumni of the program, and other activities.

For more: outdoorschoolforall.org.

A new statewide coalition wants the state to spend $22 million per year on an Outdoor Education Fund.

Oregon Outdoor Education for All, the nonprofit coalition that formed last year, is introducing two bills in the state Legislature that would pay to send every sixth-grader in the state to Outdoor School for six days and five nights.

Currently, about 26,000 sixth-graders throughout the Portland metro area attend Outdoor School — but the majority attend for a condensed three days. Even then, that’s only if their school districts have been able to cobble together the funding. In all, fewer than half of the state’s sixth-graders participate.

Outdoor advocates have long been trying to provide a sustainable funding stream, and to expand Outdoor School for students across the state.

The two bills — Senate Bill 439 and House Bill 2648 — will be sponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers: Oregon Rep. Sherrie Sprenger, R-Scio; Oregon Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay; Oregon Sen. Chuck Thomsen, R-Hood River; and Oregon Rep. Betty Komp, D-Woodburn.

Both bills would establish a state Outdoor Education Fund, set criteria for eligible programs, designate the Oregon State University Extension Service as the implementing agency, and seek $22 million per year from the state’s general fund.

The $22 million includes the cost of $60 per day for 55,000 sixth-graders statewide (which comes to $18 million per year), plus transportation costs, teacher stipends, pay for substitutes’ time in the classrooms, and overhead for the agency to administer the fund.

“We’re talking about .05 percent of the state’s general fund — a tiny drop in the bucket, but every drop is precious,” says Rex Burkholder, co-founder of the Oregon Outdoor Education Coalition.

The coalition has been working on the effort for the past five or so months. They hired a lobbyist who talked with 24 legislators, and conducted a poll that showed 65 percent of voters support the initiative statewide, with 70 percent support outside the Willamette Valley.

Advocates point to research that has shown that the full six-day Outdoor School experience has more impact on classroom performance, dropout prevention, and social and behavioral benefits for students.

Burkholder, a former metro councilor, has spearheaded the effort of keeping the topic of outdoor education alive around the state, organizing a series of regional meetings with support from the Oregon Forest Resources Institute.

The fourth of the six meetings was held last Friday in Newport, when about 30 people — Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Department of Forestry and other educators — showed up to talk about the similarities and differences in programming, Burkholder says.

In eastern Oregon, they talked about their students participating in day-long activities; in southern Oregon there are private camps that are open in the summer months only.

“All these folks are really dedicated to the concept of getting people outdoors,” Burkholder says. “These aren’t recruiting meetings. But we do describe what we’re doing. People are totally excited about it, really happy someone is taking this on.”

The fifth meeting in the coalition’s lineup is set for 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 21, at the Metro Council Chamber and Annex in Portland.

People from around the state can teleconference into the event by signing up at oregonoutdoored.org/oregon-outdoor-register.

The final meeting is set for Jan. 24 in Eugene.

After the meetings wrap up, the coalition will issue a report on their findings around mid-February.

Now as the coalition’s campaign makes its public launch, Burkholder hopes the grassroots movement will help sway lawmakers to support the bills.

“I have high hopes,” he says. “The feedback has been, this is a really good awesome idea; run with it.”