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SURVIVOR THEME SETS TONE AT ANNUAL OUTDOOR SCHOOL

OUTDOOR DANCE NUMBER: Stella mayfield students, from left, Chris Burton, Donny Schooley, Justine Haney, Jessica Parker and Patrick Barrows practice a dance routine during outdoor school at the Blue Mountain 4-H Center. ().
OUTDOOR DANCE NUMBER: Stella mayfield students, from left, Chris Burton, Donny Schooley, Justine Haney, Jessica Parker and Patrick Barrows practice a dance routine during outdoor school at the Blue Mountain 4-H Center. ().

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

These Elgin survivors didnt have to eat worms, avoid crocodiles or hike in the Australian Outback.

However, they did discover what it is like to take part in a survivor-type challenge last week. The students emerged not with battle scars but with smiles, expanded knowledge and new friends.

The students are the 120 Stella Mayfield sixth, seventh and eighth- graders who recently participated in Elgins annual Outdoor School at the Blue Mountain 4-H Center.

The theme of the outdoor school was Survivor, named after the popular CBS television program. On televisions Survivor, a group of individuals who dont know one another work together in a rough outdoor environment. This years Survivor series took place in Australias Outback.

In Stella Mayfields version of Survivor, 11-member groups of students worked together for a week on challenging academic and outdoor skill projects. The groups had a mix of sixth, seventh and eighth-graders, few of whom knew each other well.

The groups competed against one another in things such as relays and academic contests.

The relays included an obstacle course race and a raw egg competition. In the latter an egg was placed in the middle of a field. A blindfolded student led by a teammate had to find the egg without breaking it. The blindfolded student could not be touched by his or her guide.

Few eggs were stepped on.

We brought dozens of eggs because we thought many would be broken, teacher Sandy Rysdam said.

Groups also took on academic challenges, doing things such as solving a set number of math questions in a 10-minute period.

Teams also had to do things like build a tower with index cards.

One group was creative enough to determine that rules allowed teams to build a tower by taping index cards on to someone, teacher Dianne Eckstein said. Eckstein was one of the organizers of the outdoor school.

A popular non-competitive activity was hiking to Mount Emily. The hikes were two to three miles long. The last portion of the hike was particularly difficult because of rough, steep terrain, Rysdam said.

A survey indicated that the hike was one of the most popular activities.

Stella Mayfields outdoor school has been conducted for more than 20 years. For most of its history the outdoor school was only for sixth-graders. This is one of the first years that students in grades 6-8 participated.

We didnt know how it would work out since students in grades 6-8 are at different levels of maturity, teacher Janet Scoubes said.

The teams operated smoothly though.

They gelled and pulled together, Scoubes said.

Behavior problems were rare.

Most of the groups took care of behavior problems themselves, Eckstein said. The groups wanted to succeed and stay on track.

Preparation in the weeks before the outdoor school may have made a difference. Rysdam noted that teams were given activities to take part in at school.

We wanted to find if they could work together, Rysdam said.

All the groups were good matches and no changes had to be made.

This is the third year in a row that Elgins Outdoor School has been conducted at the Blue Mountain 4-H Center, which is about 10 miles north of La Grande. Previously the outdoor school was conducted in a much more remote site.

Rysdam prefers the Blue Mountain 4-H Center because it is closer to medical facilities in the event a student gets hurt or sick.

Another advantage is that it is easier to get presenters to visit.

Organizations that provided presenters included the Grande Ronde Bird Club, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service and the Grande Ronde Model Watershed.

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