Clackamas County youths reconnect with outdoors through OSU Extension forestry education programs

A young person bends down to look at something in a stream while an adult woman stands nearby and watches him.

By the summer of 2021, after more than a year of remote learning due to COVID-19, many Clackamas County elementary and middle school students hadn’t experienced hands-on enrichment activities and field trips that enhance education in the natural sciences. It was important to reengage these students with environmental education prior to the 2021-22 school year.

In response, Peter Matzka, Oregon State University Extension Service forestry outreach coordinator in Clackamas County, changed his usual educational approach. Normally, summers are dedicated to programming for teachers and the public. However, after receiving requests from area schools to hold summer programs for students, he reevaluated the season to put the spotlight on school students.

Working with schools from Beaver Creek, Canby, Molalla, Mulino, Oregon City and West Linn, he tailored experiences to fit with varying teacher objectives. All of his outdoor courses in natural resources science were developed to provide the experiences students missed during the pandemic. As part of his efforts, Matzka prioritized programs for students from rural areas and groups that may have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

As a result, over 900 students in second through eighth grades and 100 adult chaperones in Clackamas County attended an enrichment program at the Hopkins Demonstration Forest during the summer and several other groups came in early fall. Through hands-on learning participants connected with the outdoors. They also got a chance to be with their friends and fellow peers, exercise in the outdoors through trail walks and learn about the importance of Oregon's forests and natural resources.