By CHRIS COLLINS
Of the Baker City Herald
For the past nine years, Outdoor School has been taking sixth-graders out of their stuffy classrooms at Churchill Elementary at a time when cabin fever is taking a firm hold on children who have their sights set on summer vacation.
But more than that, it has given the students a chance to apply the lessons they've learned in the classroom to projects in the field.
Students are attending Outdoor School through Friday.
andquot;They can find out how much water is in a pond or coming down a stream,andquot; said Rick Rembold, who helped organize Churchill's first Outdoor School in 1994.
The school's staff members will be going their separate ways next fall as they are assigned to the district's other elementary schools. This year's fifth-graders will remain at their neighborhood schools as sixth-graders. Churchill Elementary, which has served only sixth-graders for the past 14 years, is closing because of a district funding shortfall for an expected savings of more than $222,000.
As the school closes its doors, Outdoor School also is expected to end at least in its present form. The district budget included $3,095 for the program.
andquot;I know there are people who'd really like to see it continue,andquot; said Mark Bogart, Churchill School principal. andquot;There's a good chance it will happen again.andquot;
A separate coordinator would have to be hired, however, he said. Bogart, who has been the project coordinator, will serve as North Baker School principal next year.
andquot;There's not a position where that fits neatly in,andquot; he said.
Rembold and teacher Kathi Shaw were pressed into service to help coordinate the program this year after Bogart also assumed administrative duties at Haines and Keating schools.
The Outdoor School has been set at Phillips Park since it began at Churchill. The 40-acre haven sits about 10 miles west of Baker City and is owned by Don and Jackie Phillips.
Because of a district spending freeze implemented in January, the program was able to continue this year only through donations by the Phillipses and Baker Sanitary Service, Bogart said. The park has been rented to the district for $600 in the past and garbage service and chemical toilets have been provided at the site by Baker Sanitary for about $200.
The Phillipses have been especially helpful over the years, working to cut the grass and trim the weeds, to provide a pleasant setting for the students, he added.
In addition to school staff, the classes are taught by employees of various agencies including the Extension Service, Oregon State Police and the Bureau of Land Management with help from parent volunteers.
A total of 183 students are studying classes ranging from first aid to art, geology and insects this year.
The nature classes are a special bonus of Outdoor School, Rembold said.
andquot;We have our bugs in the school, but not as many as out here,andquot; he joked.
Insect classes are taught by Extension agent Janice Cowan and Churchill teacher Eth Carr.
andquot;Being out in the environment sometimes away from the classroom setting actually enhances their knowledge and learning skills, just because they're in a different environment,andquot; Cowan said of the benefits of Outdoor School.
andquot;Leafhoppers are everywhere and the girls are screaming,andquot; she said. andquot;It's a good, active, hands-on activity.andquot;
Retirees Bill Pickens, a former Baker High School art teacher, and Jule Jeffs, former Churchill music teacher, also volunteered their time this week along with members of the BHS Bulloggers forestry team.
Senior Josh Srack recalled his experiences as a sixth-grader at Outdoor School and lamented the program's end Wednesday while teaching students how to use a crosscut saw.
andquot;I don't think it's real fair to the upcoming kids,andquot; he said.
Josh Stanley, a BHS junior Bullogger, said he enjoyed watching the students go through some of the same activities he experienced as a sixth-grader.
andquot;They get to come up here and have fun and be in the outdoors,andquot; he said. andquot;I think it's good for them.andquot;