One of the best parts about Outdoor School is tradition. This program has been running for almost 50 years. It has been a ground breaking pilot program for environmental literacy in the state and nationwide. What makes Outdoor School special at Camp Howard is that this is the original site, and has been hosting Outdoor School the entire time.
Since 1966, 6th graders have loaded up on big yellow busses and spent a few days exploring the forest and splashing in the pond. They have had opportunities to get to know students from other schools, to learn outside of the classroom, and in many cases, have been able to simply have their basic needs met, like three balanced meals and a warm place to sleep for the first time. Outdoor School serves most of Multnomah county, and most schools include it as not only a rite of passage for their students, but an essential part of teaching their 6th grade science curriculum.
Something I have noticed is the sense of community that is felt when Outdoor School lives at camp. I can hear it in the endless songs that kids sing from place to place, I can see it during mealtimes, when students use table manners, help with chores and show appreciation to not only each other, but to the cooking staff as well. As kids leave with their arms reaching out the bus windows, promising to return in four years to be a high school student leader.
There are always things I hear or see in passing when running around site. This week for example, we have a student whose father was on staff when Coho, the Site Supervisor currently, was a high school leader. And Coho herself was a 6th grade student here at Howard. Last week there was an exchange student from Indonesia able to be a high school leader that “ just appreciated that everyone here is so positive”. A student whose “favorite part of Outdoor School was being able to get away from problems at home”. Students that are not normally successful in classrooms find that being taught in the Outdoors they can be successful. Every week students plant a tree to commemorate their week, Camp Howard has the very first tree planted by 6th graders for Outdoor School, it lives strong and tall at the far end of the main field near the sand pit over looking the bluff. All of this happens at beautiful Camp Howard.
Outdoor School can be a transformative process for students and their memories reside here at Howard. Ask almost anyone that grew up in Portland and they can recall their Outdoor School experience. They remember their high school student and the place they attended. Howard lives on in their memories.
It is special to have Outdoor School roam our trails and sit at our campfires. Outdoor School is a part of Oregon’s history. Parents, and in some cases now, grandparents, have sent their children off to Outdoor School for the past 50 years, and they have been coming to Howard the entire time. The stories that these cabins could tell! It is so wonderful to have such a rich history continue on here at our site. My hope is that Outdoor School can live on for many, many more years to come and students can enjoy the benefits of community and education, the splendor of Oregon, and Camp Howard.