OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

From Kindergarten, Butte Creek Elementary students have their eyes set on sixth grade outdoor school at the Oregon Coast—but they need a little help getting there

A close encounter with a seal thrilled sixth-graders from Silverton, Oregon, during a recent trip to Outdoor School. Some of them had never even been to the beach before!

Butte Creek Elementary is a rural school located outside of Silverton, Oregon. Each year, the school sends their sixth graders to Camp Westwind just north of Lincoln City. With sea caves, incredible vistas, and an estuary of the Salmon River, it’s no wonder the school has returned to this site year after year.

At camp, hands-on is an understatement. Students dig for mole crabs and dissect squids. They catch invertebrates in nets and study the health of the estuary. They test water quality, sing songs about the water cycle, and play games to identify plants. Each of the four days is packed with movement, exploration, and fun, in small groups led by teachers.

Trained high school councilors also help guide the kids on what might be their first time away from home and their parents.

"A lot of kids come back as councilors,” says Terry Woodall, a teacher and 12-year veteran of outdoor school. "It’s really neat to see some of our old kids that come back.”

From Kindergarden, Butte Creek students’ eyes are on outdoor school. That’s when they begin fundraising with a walk- and jog-a-thon.

“The kids get excited about going young,” Woodall says. “But even when we do a lot of fundraising, it’s pretty rare that the class has it all covered."

It costs more than $200 to send each Butte Creek student to Camp Westwind. Funding from the Gray Family Foundation helped the school offset the costs of tuition and transporting kids to the beach. This helped ensure that each student—no matter their background—has access to the wild, immersive experience of outdoor school.