Students in fourth through sixth grade across Wallowa County are enjoying four days of Outdoor School this year. What’s different about it is that for the first time, the program is being substantially supported by state money through Measure 99.
Thanks to an historic partnership with Wallowa Resources, Wallowa County schools have enjoyed Outdoor School uninterrupted since 2005. Students benefited from the Outdoor Wallowa Learning program and Wallowa Resources also expanded the age group of students served to include fourth grade. Wallowa Resources is continuing to use its own grant funds from various family foundations to pay for 4th grade students.
How much the three districts, who applied jointly for the state funding, will receive won’t be known until December, according to state officials.
Applications are due by Nov. 14.
“We anticipate the review process will take two to three weeks and will be followed by notifications to each applicant regarding their specific award amounts, which will be based on their estimated number of participants,” said Kristopher M. Elliott, Outdoor School Program Leader for Oregon Department of Education. “The final dollar amount will be funded at the completion of each school’s program and a final report, which will include the actual numbers, dictating the actual funding.”
Measure 99 mandates spending up to $22 million from the state lottery Economic Development Fund for roughly 50,000 students
Voters approved the measure in 2016. Prior to passage, participation in Outdoor School varied by district. Programs were popular in the ‘50s, but by 2016, around half of districts had dropped it due to budget constraints.
In the Wallowa County version, groups of students learn about plant communities, macroinvertebrates, river structure, riparian vegetation, grassland and juniper landscapes and sense of place. Students create nature journals recording scientific, mathematical measurements and observations as well as considering the interaction of humans in the landscape.
Organizers say by learning more about the careers and journals of famous naturalists, conservationists and activists such as John Muir and Terry Tempest Williams, they are able to put the value of nature journals into perspective and see how they are important to larger work in various fields.
Wallowa County residents approved the measure overwhelmingly, 2,307-1,888. High approval rates in western counties drove the percentage of approval statewide to 66.6 percent.
Wallowa and Enterprise students have already had their Outdoor School this session fall; Joseph Charter will hold spring sessions.
Elliott said all three districts would be eligible for funding this year.