Name: Sophia Valdez
From: Portland, Oregon
School: Cleveland High School
It is known all across the country that children have a wiggle in them that can make it difficult to focus for several hours in school every day. On top of this, many children simply don’t learn as well as others in classroom environments. At Outdoor School, adult staff and high school volunteers give 6th grade students from all across the state of Oregon the chance to try new ways of learning that offers more stimulation and flexibility than sitting in a room all day. For one week out of the year, students stay at a camp surrounded by Northwestern wilderness and spend every day doing a variety of
activities meant to teach them about biology, environmental preservation, and teamwork. Outdoor School focuses on hands-on activities and letting the kids teach themselves and ask questions with the teenage Student Leaders only there to be guides.
A mantra we have at my site is “everybody has their thing”. It is the student leader’s goal to make sure that the special needs of every student, their “things”, are accounted for when doing activities with them. This means working with disabilities, behavioral differences, and even just kids who don’t want to be there. Being flexible can be working with a disabled child’s one-on-one helper so that they can be included in as much as possible, taking less or simpler notes for
students who have difficulty writing, or changing the lesson plan to fit the mood of the group. Countless times I’ve taken high-energy groups on hikes and games and animal-handling activities in order to channel their energy into something educational. I’ve also skipped out on the more vigorous activities to help slowly introduce more timid groups to the outdoors. At Outdoor School, we’ve heard many kids complain about how bored they are in the classroom or the teachers talk about how they feel that their children don’t gain anything from lectures or staying inside. It is our job to show
teachers and student alike that there are unlimited options for how to make school engaging and inclusive.
As a Student Leader, it’s difficult to balance my own health while taking care of the kids, but being able to see how they mature over just one week is incredible. I’ve had a cabin of girls encourage an estranged student to join their games, students make scientific connections even their teachers couldn’t see, and a bullied boy say that he was grateful for the accepting and encouraging community at the camp that made him feel that he was treated “like a human being”.
A child’s education is an essential part of their life, and I am honored not only to work towards a dream where we adapt to help children instead of them adapting to us, but to see it come true.