Learning lessons outdoors

By Dick Mason, The Observer October 15, 2012 02:22 pm

Powder Valley Elementary School sixth-graders, Samantha Fisher, left, and Darby LaHogg, examine a dragonfly with a magnifier.  The dragonfly is one Powder Valley sixth-graders brought back to North Powder from an outdoor school at Phillips Park.  DICK MASON - The Observer
Powder Valley Elementary School sixth-graders, Samantha Fisher, left, and Darby LaHogg, examine a dragonfly with a magnifier. The dragonfly is one Powder Valley sixth-graders brought back to North Powder from an outdoor school at Phillips Park. DICK MASON - The Observer

From ‘Mountain Lion Etiquette’ to orienteering, students expand their knowledge at annual week-long South Baker 2012 Fall Sixth Grade Outdoor School 

Phillips Park in Baker County recently became a satellite classroom for Powder Valley Elementary School sixth-graders — a classroom that helped boost students’ knowledge of the outdoors into a higher orbit.

Phillips Park was the site of the annual week-long South Baker 2012 Fall Sixth Grade Outdoor School. The 20 students in Holly Coleman’s sixth-grade class at Powder Valley Elementary School were among approximately 150 students who attended the outdoor school. They joined students from Haines, Burnt River and South Baker Elementary in Baker City.   

The students were at Phillips Park each day from 9 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. The days passed quickly for many students.

“We learned so much about science, and I really liked the fresh air. It was much better than being in a classroom all day,’’ said Powder Valley Elementary sixth-grader Darby LaHogg.

Classmate Logan Nedrow expressed a similar sentiment.

“I would definitely go back (to the outdoor school). It was so much fun,’’ the sixth-grader said. 

The 17 subjects covered at the outdoor school included forestry, fire ecology, insects, wildlife, orienteering and survival. The school was taught by individuals from local, state and federal agencies including the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Baker County Watershed and the Oregon State Department of Geology and Mineral Industries, the Baker County Sheriff’s Department and the Oregon State University Extension Service.

“They knew how to relate to kids,’’ Coleman said.

Once presenters with the U.S. Forest Service had to leave because they were called out to a forest fire.

“There was all kinds of excitement,” Coleman said.

She said the students were struck with how professional and polite the forest fire crew was when it had to leave on the spur of the moment.  

Coleman said that overall the geology and survival skills presentations were the most popular among the students. Students in the survival skills section were taught about what to do if they get lost. The most important thing is not to panic.

“Panic is your most dangerous enemy,’’ the students’ manual said.

Students were also told that 85 percent of the people who get lost tend to panic in one way or another and that 50 percent “actually run to the point of exhaustion out of fear.”

 The sixth-graders were urged to adhere to the STOP principle — STOP stands for sit, think, observe and plan.

Students in the geology portion of the outdoor school learned about plate tectonics, fossils, igneous rock and much more. The sixth-graders took hikes around Phillips Park to examine geologic features. They then were asked to use their observations to interpret the geologic processes that formed the area’s landscape.

At the outdoor school’s camping station, students learned about subjects including fire ecology, soils, wildlife, watersheds and camping.

 “Mountain Lion Etiquette’’ and “Bear Etiquette’’ were among the subjects covered at the camping station. The sixth-graders were taught how to avoid encounters with cougars or bears and what to do if they find themselves in the presence of one.

The South Baker Outdoor School has been conducted each year for more than a decade by South Baker Elementary. The outdoor school was run in the spring until last September when it was switched to the fall. South Baker Elementary Principal Betty Palmer said conducting the outdoor school in the fall works best because the weather is consistently better and it helps schools start the year in a way that excites students. 

This was the second year Coleman has taken her class to the South Baker Outdoor School. 

“It is a great way to engage them in science,’’ the Powder Valley sixth-grade teacher said.

Coleman pointed out that some of her students who were not interested in science today have a different perspective.

“Now they think it is pretty neat.’’