COOS BAY — Oregon voters want kids to spend more time outside. The solution? Outdoor education.

Measure 99 requires all school districts to provide outdoor school experiences for fifth or sixth grade students. Once the measure was passed, it was decided that funding would come through state lottery money as well as Measure 99 funds.

“Initially it was required that students spend five consecutive days and four nights outside, but then backed off when they realized funding would not be what they expected,” said Coos Bay School District Superintendent Bryan Trendell. “The state put out the recommendation for two nights and three days, which is what we are doing.”

The Coos Bay School District has chosen to send its 6th graders from Sunset and Millicoma middle schools to the new outdoor science camp in Newport. The OMSI Coastal Discovery Center at Camp Gray opened in 2016, boasting of being the largest outdoor science camp in the country.

To send its 235 students to Camp Gray, it will cost the district almost $44,000.

“We didn’t know what funding was going to look like at the time, but knew there would be some from Measure 99 so went ahead and booked some dates at the facility,” Trendell said.

The district planned if Measure 99 funds only covered a portion of the cost to turn to fundraising to cover the rest of the expense.

However, over winter break the district was notified that the cost would be fully covered.

“We submitted the request to the Oregon State University Extension Program that monitors the funding for outdoor education throughout the state and they told us over the break that they would fund all of it,” he said. “The great thing is that the total cost takes care of transportation, meals, and the facility, everything to do with Camp Gray.”

Camp Gray is complete with dormitories, cafeteria, three classrooms, but focuses mainly on getting kids outside. The OMSI staff teaches at various stations spread across the three days. Coos Bay School staff that will join the students will help but mainly monitor the kids.

Students will be broken into groups of 12 and rotated through the stations. Staff and parent volunteers will chaperone them overnight.

“The folks that sponsored the outdoor education ballot measure felt the kids weren’t getting an opportunity to be outside,” Trendell explained. “I personally think it was geared more toward the metropolitan areas because here in rural districts our kids get a good taste of the outdoors.”

In fact, students at the Coos Bay School District often go on field trips to fisheries, the marsh, and at least two buildings have gardens tended by classes.

“We actually used to do outdoor school when I was still teaching at Sunset Middle School,” Trendell said. “We took our seventh graders every year for two nights and three days to Camp Baker, a Boy Scout camp in Florence. We put on our outdoor school program with science and had lots of activities for the kids that you don’t always get in a general classroom.”

However, the program died off shortly after Trendell moved up in his career and seventh graders were moved to the high school campus.

“To have it overnight gives these kids the experience to be away from home,” Trendell said. “When we did the outdoor school program at Sunset, we had kids who hadn’t been across the McCullough Bridge or out of town. I think that’s part of what goes along with the overnight piece because they can have activities like skits. I anticipate this will be the same, just in a confined and newer location.”

The sixth graders from Millicoma Middle School will leave for Camp Gray in March just before spring break, while those at Sunset will go the first week of April.

“I think it’s great where you can get them out of town, they are old enough to do that, and it’s an age where they don’t necessarily get the rich science curriculum that our high schoolers do,” Trendell said. “I’m excited, our staff is excited. This will be a requirement for students and it’s going to be a very rich program.”

Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or by email at jillian.ward@theworldlink.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JE_Wardwriter.