Teaming up for outdoor education

Kaniksu Land Trust joins forces with LPOSD to install outdoor education centers at local schools

By Ben Olson
Reader Staff

Let’s be honest: most students are more than happy to spend a part of their school day outside the classroom, learning about what makes our natural paradise so great here in North Idaho. With Kaniksu Land Trust’s help, the Lake Pend Oreille School District No. 84 is hoping to make outdoor education a permanent reality.

KLT staffers erected two tents outside of Washington and Farmin-Stidwell Elementary schools Oct. 5 and Oct. 6, to be utilized as outdoor education centers for students to dig deeper into the natural world. Volunteers from the Alpine Shop in Sandpoint helped set up the tents and volunteers from Outdoor Experience will pitch in to erect future tents as funding becomes available.

One of the newly erected outdoor learning center tents at Farmin-Stidwell Elementary School. From left to right: Jaymes Hanson and Zach Vollmer (with Alpine Shop), Katie Egland Cox, Dave Kretzschmar and Chloey Davis (with KLT) and Erik Olson and Betsy Dalessio (with Farmin-Stidwell). Photo by Ben Olson.

“There have been studies that show that when you bring students outside to learn, you see better attendance, more teamwork and engagement, and you see kids working for longer periods of time,” said Katie Egland Cox, executive director of the nonprofit Kaniksu Land Trust. “Being outside really benefits kids.”

It’s for these reasons that KLT has promoted outdoor education through its own programs for more than six years. Now, members of the organization are hoping to bring some of what they’ve learned to the school district to help students benefit from the same educational model.

“Dave [Kretzschmar] has been leading outdoor education classes for KLT for years now and everyone has always had a lot of fun learning from him,” Cox told the Reader. “But there’s only one Dave, unfortunately, so this is a way for each school in the district to form their own outdoor education curriculums and have the space to do so.”

The goal is to install an outdoor tent at each school in the district, with middle school and high school students potentially used as mentors for younger students.

The idea stemmed from a conversation Cox had with LPOSD Superintendent Tom Albertson and LPOSD Teaching and Learning Director Andra Murray about how to put the best foot forward for local students after the global pandemic has prompted so many changes to the traditional education model.

“We heard a rumor from teachers that there would be shorter days with cohorts in classrooms and a potential of no recess,” Cox said. “We wanted to work with schools to find another way we can help bring kids outside the classrooms.”

Extended Learning Program teacher Christy Eddy at Farmin-Stidwell said, “We’re really grateful for KLT in helping to make learning fun for kids. North Idaho is a special and gorgeous place to learn outside.”

Farmin-Stidwell Principal Erik Olson is also excited to start using the outdoor education centers to develop new curriculum for students.

“I’ve seen Dave [Kretzschmar] out here with fifth graders when it’s snowing and everyone is having a blast,” Olson told the Reader. “With this tent, we now have another space, another classroom, for learning outside the school walls. This has been a perfect opportunity to work with Katie and KLT.”

Olson said Farmin-Stidwell raised more than $21,000 this year at its Boosterthon, with the goal to provide more outdoor learning spaces.

The tents measure 14 feet by 23 feet, with the option for each school to pitch in for a larger tent if they see the need. Tents can be taken down during heavy snow periods and put up again quickly, making them quite versatile.

Each school will have the option to develop curriculum to suit their needs, with Kretzschmar potentially serving in an advisory role to help schools develop programs to tackle the educational opportunities that this area provides. Plus, after the pandemic quiets down and life returns to some semblance of normality — we hope — the outdoor classrooms will be in place to use for both outdoor learning, as well as extra classroom space.

Cox said the first two tents are only the starting point for KLT. Funding for the first outdoor learning centers was provided by grants obtained by KLT, and the organization is actively seeking more grant money to finish installing tents at each school in the district. Cox said if any private donors are interested in helping to fund the remaining tents, KLT needs about $10,000 to make sure all schools in the district have one outdoor learning center. At that point, schools can decide if they want to install more tents to further utilize the space for future educational opportunities. 

Anyone interested in donating to this effort can contact Katie Egland Cox at [email protected] or call KLT at 208-263-9471.

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