By Kailey Fisicaro

The Bulletin

Although outdoor school is already a part of the curriculum for elementary students in Bend, Redmond and La Pine, local school district officials are hoping Measure 99 funds will still have a positive impact.

The measure, approved by Oregon voters with about 66 percent of the vote, creates an outdoor education fund with money from the state lottery. It will provide outdoor school programs statewide.

Both Redmond School District and Bend-La Pine Schools already provide all of their students at least one opportunity, generally in upper elementary grades, to go to an outdoor school.

School officials at both districts hope Measure 99 money will help pay for outdoor school without decreasing the amount of general fund money they now receive from the state.

Linda Seeberg, Redmond School District’s executive director of academic programs, helps oversee outdoor school for the district. She said the district values outdoor school, which students generally attend for three days, just as it values any outdoor field trips that are relevant to the curriculum.

“Something about learning that happens in context — in reality — really solidifies concepts kids are learning in the classroom. Something sort of magic that happens that bonds kids as a classroom and as a team,” said Seeberg, who used to teach in the district and took students to outdoor school herself.

Through outdoor school “we’re getting kids connected with the amazing science and learning opportunities that exist just within our community,” Seeberg said.

Outdoor school basically qualifies as an extended field trip, and the district’s rule about field trips is they are educational, not extracurricular, “so every kid gets to go,” Seeberg said.

Seeberg said outdoor school costs about $175 per child. All of the Redmond School District’s fifth-graders get to go to Camp Tamarack, in Camp Sherman, and about half its fourth-graders get to go to a different camp. It just depends on the teacher and the school, since doing outdoor school in fourth grade means a big undertaking for the teachers involved, Seeberg said.

At Camp Tamarack, kids stay in what Seeberg described as “rustic cabins.” If students need outdoor necessities like hiking boots or sleeping bags, they can get help from Family Access Network advocates who work in the schools to connect students and families with resources such as food, clothing, shelter and school supplies.

This year, there are 572 fifth-graders in the district, Seeberg said. There are about the same amount of fourth-graders, she said, so if, in total, there are about 800 Redmond kids going to outdoor school this year, that means a cost of approximately $140,000.

Seeberg said there are three main sources of funding for outdoor school currently: school fundraisers such as fun runs, parent donations and usually an annual grant from the Redmond Education Foundation.

“Currently, the district doesn’t provide general fund money, but it could in the future,” Seeberg said.

Measure 99 will dedicate a portion of state lottery money for an outdoor school program. In 2015, the Legislature created the Outdoor Education Account for a six-day outdoor school program for fifth- and sixth-grade students across the state. But just creating that account didn’t provide a funding source. Measure 99 would dedicate either four percent of the quarterly transfers to this fund, or $5.5 million quarterly, up to $22 million per year — whichever amounts to less. Since the money will come from lottery funds, some have argued the measure will shift more money away from economic development in Oregon, which also gets some lottery dollars.

Seeberg said from the way the measure is worded, she does not expect Measure 99 money for outdoor school would mean the district would receive less money from the state for its general fund, but she noted any superintendent could be concerned whether that will happen.

Mike McIntosh, Redmond School District’s superintendent, said Measure 99 shifts school districts’ priorities via a state mandate.

“Part of me as a superintendent says, ‘that’s a slippery slope,’” he said, adding that he thinks “there’s some danger that we live in a state where a ballot measure can dictate special interests.”

But he sees the enormous value in outdoor school. He himself went to Camp Tamerack as a Redmond sixth-grader about 40 years ago.

“There’s just some tentativeness in my excitement,” McIntosh said of the measure.

Jay Mathisen, deputy superintendent of Bend-La Pine Schools, said all fifth-graders in that district also have the opportunity to go to Camp Tamarack for outdoor school.

“We value that learning experience for kids,” he said.

With Measure 99, Bend-La Pine Schools is interested in exploring what the funding will look like, how much it will be for the district and whether it will allow the district to simply continue outdoor school or enhance it.

— Reporter: 541-383-0325, kfisicaro@bendbulletin.com

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