Hello Portland Public Schools Board and Superintendent Smith,
I am writing as an alumna of the MESD Outdoor School program. I volunteered as a Junior Counselor at Eagle Fern from 1988-1991, completing six sessions of what was the best career foundation I could have hoped for. I also worked as an ODS Program Leader while in college. I had the privilege of working with Jeff Dallas and Scott Sievertsen for several years, both of whom I see are still on ODS staff 20 years hence, unbelievable dedication that was there from the beginning.
My training as a then- “Junior Counselor” gave me a multitude of critical job skills, life skills, and I realize now, as the mother of a five-year-old, parenting skills. This all in addition to educating me about the natural wonder of Oregon, my family’s home state for generations.
Here is a list of what Outdoor School gave me as a teenager, gifts that helped me shape my life as an adult:
1. Access to responsible, dedicated adults that worked one-on-one with me to improve my teaching and problem-solving skills and inspired me to mature into an environmentally conscious adult.
2. A flexible stage for practicing leadership skills, public speaking, creative communication and goal-setting. Plus plenty of room to push my own limits in these areas. This built confidence in me that ultimately led me to develop my own business.
3. Awe at the depth and bounty of natural wonder that is Oregon. As a result of ODS, I was inspired to learn as much as I could about natural history of the Pacific Northwest, eventually earning a B.S. in Botany at the University of Washington.
4. The chance for me, a suburban girl, to work directly with my peers from all over Multnomah County, taught me how to work successfully with people from all kinds of backgrounds, thanks to the dedicated coaching of the “Senior Counselors” (Program Leaders). I volunteer for and lead civic projects regularly at my current home in Minneapolis.
5. The beginning of a lifelong love of nature and desire to share it with the next generation. I teach workshops that use art as a bridge to concepts about nature and science, and I spend as much time as possible in nature with my daughter.
I have drawn on my Outdoor School experience at every stage of my life. Now I have a vibrant business selling the botanical textiles I design, mentoring interns through my business, and providing art programming in public schools that connects students to nature through art-making.
Not a day goes by that I don’t recall Outdoor School and relish the luck I had to be a part of it. I never even got to be a sixth-grader in the program, as I grew up in Clackamas County. In this day of expanding computer labs and online learning, I have always been glad to know there is still a place where hands-on learning about both people and nature was still valued as a part of education.
The Outdoor School Program embodies a tradition of learning that is more important than ever. Children need adults to introduce them to nature, as it has been spelled out so thoroughly by Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods. Teenagers need job and life skills that they will draw on all of their lives as I have, not to mention their own exposure to nature. Oregon needs citizens that are interconnected through their experience of nature and working together.
It is truly unfortunate that such an outstanding program must fight for its existence year after year. I hope you will understand from my letter that Outdoor School fulfilled far more than an extracurricular-type function such as sports or clubs for me, both of which I was also involved in heavily. It is a multifaceted learning experience that Oregon can be proud to have pioneered, and proud to have preserved through this many years of budget woes. This leanly-managed program, run on high-school volunteers and a skeletal staff, provides an astounding value that is beyond sentimental.
In your budgeting considerations, remember that this program packs a punch that I’m sure is hard to find. An all-in-one job-training, parenting-, social- and business skill-building, leadership fostering, environmental education program like Outdoor School must be maintained with adequate and stable funding in order to continue providing the wealth of services it offers.
St. Mary’s Academy, Portland, OR ‘91
B.S. Botany, University of Washington ‘97