Chris Collins
The Baker City Herald

The Baker School District’s traditional outdoor school has expanded to a four-day and three-night residential camp this year thanks to voter-approved funding to help all districts provide similar experiences for their students.

About 135 sixth-graders from South Baker Intermediate and Haines and Keating elementary schools are expected to attend the Outdoor School program at Camp Elkanah beginning Monday, Sept. 17, and returning home to their schools on Thursday, Sept. 20.

The residential camp established in 1956 includes 186 acres of forestland just off state Highway 244 southwest of La Grande. Camp Elkanah is operated by the Blue Mountain Association of Conservative Baptists.

Last year was the first in which money was provided through Ballot Measure 99 to help pay for Outdoor School programs. A total of $24 million was approved for the program’s first two years.

The measure, which was approved by voters statewide in the November 2016 election, created the Outdoor School Education Fund financed by Oregon State Lottery money distributed for economic development. Baker County voters supported the measure by a margin of 4,744 to 3,776. The money is administered through the Oregon State University Extension Service. The Baker County Extension staff has been a traditional partner in the program over the years.

The 5J District received about $5,800 for its 2017-18 Outdoor School program, a rate of about $35 per student as reimbursement for expenses incurred during its daytime schedule of classes at the Elkhorn Wildlife Area along the North Powder River 25 miles northwest of Baker City.

The Baker School District’s Outdoor School, which started in 1992 and traditionally was scheduled in May, has taken place in September since the fall of 2011. The schedule was flipped from spring to fall because of the usually milder fall weather compared to Northeastern Oregon’s unpredictably rainy, windy springs. On average, May is the wettest month here.

The Baker program was maintained over the years when other school districts were cutting their outdoor school programs thanks to contributions from Parent-Teacher organizations, grant funding and community partners and volunteers who contributed their support.

This year’s residential camp is expected to cost about $225 per student, which includes on-site meals provided by Camp Elkanah, lodging and other services, said Betty Palmer, assistant superintendent.

Geno Bates, South Baker Intermediate principal, said about a dozen overnight chaperones have been recruited from among Eastern Oregon University students enrolled in the education program who are doing their fall student-teaching experience in various schools in the area, including the Baker 5J District.

Bates credits his experience as a college student for helping him get his first teaching job.

“I think it’s a great opportunity,” he said of the experience the college students will gain during the week. They also will receive a small stipend and money to cover the cost of transportation to the site, he said.

Sixth-grade teachers also will help with the program as they have in the past and at least one paraprofessional will travel to the site along with parent volunteers.

See more in the Sept. 14, 2018, issue of the Baker City Herald.