OSU Extension provides leadership for statewide Outdoor School

An Outdoor School counselor (left) shows a participating child needles on a tree

Outdoor School has a long tradition in Oregon, with some programs dating back 50 years. But not everyone has had access to the program.

That changed in November 2016, when Oregon voters passed Measure 99, mandating that all Oregon fifth- or sixth-grade students should have the opportunity to attend a week-long outdoor school program or comparable outdoor education program.

Measure 99 created an Outdoor School Education Fund and mandated that Oregon State University Extension Service would support, administer, and fund an outdoor school program as set forth in Senate Bill 439, which approved $24 million for the program’s first two years.

In the 2017-18 school year Oregon’s 30,739 participating Outdoor School students spent a total of 115,131 days outside, according to Outdoor School’s inaugural report to the public. Those numbers will likely increase in in 2018-19. Eighteen new school districts applied for funding this school year, an increase of 14 percent.

The OSU Extension Outdoor School program has a comprehensive research agenda for 2018-19. That includes an analysis of Oregon Department of Education data to predict how many students may be eligible to attend Outdoor School in the next biennium and beyond.

The Outdoor School team will more thoroughly analyze how to better serve students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, which will inform the program’s outreach campaign targeted to schools with high numbers of students from historically marginalized groups. Consequently, Outdoor School has developed the 2018-19 outreach and inclusion plan to support better access to the program.

The plan includes strategies for reaching out to families, communities and districts that aren’t participating in Outdoor School and to work with them to identify solutions to their specific barriers.

In the last year, Outdoor School has added a research, evaluation and assessment coordinator; an outreach and inclusion coordinator; a curriculum and professional development coordinator; and three regional coordinators to serve southern and eastern Oregon and the Portland metro area.

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