Save outdoor school for all

In response to your ballot measure editorial dated Oct. 5, it’s unfortunate that the Mail Tribune has taken a shortsighted view on Measure 99 and the value of Oregon’s Outdoor School program — a statewide tradition that began in our own backyard.

In 1957, at Dead Indian Soda Springs Camp, Dr. Irene Hollenbeck of the Southern Oregon College of Education organized the first Outdoor School, taking students from Medford’s Westside Elementary School. Sadly, today, funding pressures have forced more school districts to eliminate their Outdoor School programs.

To ensure all Oregon kids have the opportunity to benefit from this time-tested, proven educational program, here are five important reasons to vote yes on Measure 99 to save outdoor school for all:

Outdoor School connects kids to science and math in a way classrooms can’t.

Research shows that kids who go to Outdoor School do better in class. Their testing scores and attendance improve. Students become more curious, motivated and engaged when they learn in the outdoors, especially with their peers. They also learn life skills like self-sufficiency, self-confidence, leadership and collaboration.

Kids need to unplug from technology and reconnect with nature.

Students today spend an average of seven to 10 hours a day on their screens. Our kids need to know there is more to nature than Pokémon Go. If we are going to train, motivate, inspire and recruit our next generation of leaders and workers, and foster a love of the land among our kids, then a solid foundation in outdoor and natural resource education is essential. Outdoor School reconnects kids to the natural world and teaches them the value of our forests, rivers, wildlife and natural resources.

Measure 99 provides Outdoor School programs for all Oregon kids, regardless of their ability to pay. Simply saying that if schools wanted to provide Outdoor School they could has led to the unfair and inequitable situation we face today. Many of the kids who need it most don’t get to go because of budget cuts and lack of funding.

Measure 99 would not require schools to send their kids to Outdoor School; however, it does give all schools the opportunity to send students to Outdoor School without the need to raise taxes. It finally provides stable funding for a program that countless graduating high school seniors have said was the single most important experience in their school years.

The investment in our children’s education is smart economic development.

Raising the next generation to be active, appreciate the outdoors and discover the wonders of nature is a smart, long-term investment. It improves our kids’ academic achievement and raises their high school graduation rates. That’s why hundreds of Oregon business leaders support Measure 99.

Every dollar spent on Outdoor School stays in Oregon. For a $22 million investment (about $400 per child per year), estimates show that providing Outdoor School for all students will generate $27 million in annual economic impact. Outdoor School programs will create 600 jobs, mostly in rural Oregon.

It's time to do right by future generations of Oregonians.

Oregon is facing huge challenges. We have the fourth worst graduation rate in the country. We need more opportunities for our kids to succeed, not fewer. Measure 99 is a way we can give students across the state an educational opportunity they deserve, without raising taxes and by putting lottery dollars to good use. It’s time to do right by our kids and our future. Please vote Yes on Measure 99 this November.

— Amy Maukonen is executive director of The Valley School of Southern Oregon.

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