Stories from the Field

Advancing Education Through Outdoor Learning: The Inclusive Vision of Outdoor School for All in Washington

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In Washington State, a groundbreaking initiative is taking root, aiming to transform education by connecting students with the wonders of the natural world and increasing access to outdoor spaces in places like NatureBridge in Olympic National Park. Spearheaded by the Washington Outdoor Schools Coalition (WOSC), the Outdoor Education for All Act (HB 2078) is reshaping the educational landscape in the state. Talia Schmitt, WOSC Coalition Manager, supports Outdoor Schools through this groundbreaking program.

The Outdoor School for All initiative, backed by $15.9 million per year in funding, exemplifies a commitment to the students and environment of Washington state. Receiving an overwhelming 96% of the vote in the state legislature, this program enjoys substantial support from both elected representatives and their communities. Currently, over 50% of fifth and sixth graders in Washington attend outdoor school, demonstrating the program's success in reaching and engaging a significant portion of the state's student population.

The real intent behind Outdoor School for All in Washington was to try to make outdoor schools like NatureBridge more accessible for all students in Washington, particularly students who historically have not had a chance to experience it in the past.
Talia Schmitt, Washington Outdoor Schools Coalition (WOSC), Coalition Manager

The benefits of this outdoor education initiative are far-reaching. Research shows that students participating in outdoor school programs experience enhanced social and emotional learning, which fosters a deeper connection not only to nature but also to their school community. They exhibit a deeper desire to learn, displaying heightened curiosity and engagement in their educational journey. Additionally, outdoor educational programs nurture independence and aid students in developing strong connections with both their peers and themselves.

Outdoor Schools for All has become a national effort with bills passing first in Oregon, then Washington and now momentum is building in Maine, Maryland and Minnesota. Outdoor School for All in Washington is designed to provide universal access to immersive outdoor learning experiences, particularly for students who receive free and reduced lunch or who have historically been marginalized from comprehensive science education. 

As Talia emphasizes, organizations like NatureBridge play a crucial role in advocating for inquiry-based learning while emphasizing the importance of taking students outside for hands-on, experiential education. It is through the efforts of NatureBridge and Outdoor School for All that every student in Washington will hopefully have the opportunity to engage in outdoor school experiences.

NatureBridge is incredibly valuable to the success of Outdoor School for All and outdoor schools in Washington state because it shows through example how to have inquiry-based learning and take students outside.
Talia Schmitt, WOSC, Coalition Manager

Constituent support and encouraging elected representatives to endorse and sustain funding for Outdoor School for All is vital to supporting this initiative’s goals and successes. NatureBridge is a proud supporter of WOSC and Outdoor School for All. Learn more about Outdoor School for All.

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