Of the Baker City Herald

Grant funding and an independent coordinator will allow Baker sixth-graders to make the annual trek to Phillips Park this spring for Outdoor School despite budget cuts that eliminated funding for the program.

The changes probably will not be noticed by the students as coordinator Jan Hentze works with teachers, parents and other volunteers to offer the hands-on outdoor learning experience.

The Baker School Board agreed to hire Hentze as the program coordinator at its Feb. 18 meeting. She will earn about $16 per hour to a maximum of $2,000 for the job.

Funding for Hentze's position and other program costs will come from a federal andquot;innovative programsandquot; grant and contributions from parent groups at Brooklyn, South Baker and North Baker elementary schools where sixth-graders attend classes, said Beth Bigelow, the district's director of instruction/federal programs. No general fund money will be used.

The Churchill School staff had been taking sixth-graders to Phillips Park west of Baker City each May for a four-day outdoor experience since 1994. But the future of the program was uncertain after the school was closed last spring and the $3,095 to fund this year's Outdoor School was cut from the budget.

Hentze, 57, replaces Mark Bogart, former Churchill School principal, as the program coordinator. Bogart is North Baker School principal this year.

Hentze retired from a 30-year career as a fourth-grade teacher at Brooklyn Elementary School in 2000. While she enjoys reading, sewing and andquot;doing anything I wishandquot; in retirement, she said she has missed working with staff and students.

andquot;This is a wonderful opportunity to do something different,andquot; she said. andquot;I have taken outdoor education classes for teachers and I have done some things with fourth-graders.andquot;

Her Brooklyn students made a yearly trip to study stream life along the banks of the Powder River south of Baker City each spring.

Because sixth-grade teachers are housed in each of the three larger elementary schools this year, it will be Hentze's job to help them work together to plan this year's program. The teachers include former Churchill School staff members Rick Rembold, Jean Justus, Tom Busey and Eth Carr. Other sixth-grade teachers are Brenda Payton and Carolyn Parker.

The Outdoor School probably will be offered only three days this year instead of four, Hentze said. She is busy contacting volunteers who would be willing to help with the program. As in the past, students will study subjects such as first aid, forestry, archaeology and insects during the sessions tentatively set for late May.

Hentze said the program has many benefits including the opportunity for students to spend time with the adults who volunteer to teach the various classes.

andquot;It also gives sixth-graders a chance to be with other sixth-grade students briefly before school ends,andquot; she said.

And for some children, the Outdoor School is their first exposure to a timbered country setting complete with ponds and wildlife.

andquot;That's something all children should have the opportunity to do,andquot; she said.