The concept of outdoor school is one that many school systems have adopted in recent years. We love the idea of spending time outdoors with our students, especially when we read about the schools of the prophets and Ellen White’s counsel regarding such venues for education. Outdoor school is perhaps one of the greatest gifts we can give our students to help them appreciate nature, God’s second book, and most importantly, the Creator, who has made all things in the great outdoors.
The New York Conference (NYC) has been operating a dynamic outdoor school program for many years now. Every year in early September for five days, grade 5-9 students, teachers, volunteers, and the conference administrators meet at Camp Cherokee in northern New York to conduct the outdoor school.
This year the program ran September 8-12, and was directed by Bradley Booth, superintendent of schools, and Dan Whitlow, youth director for New York Conference. A total of 82 students from seven schools and two homeschoolers attended the outdoor school. Eight teachers, 18 volunteers, and two conference administrators served as instructors for classes, recreational directors, evening leadership activities, counselors in cabins, food service preparation, maintenance, and supervisors for seventh- and eighth-grade off-campus excursions.
Bob Holbrook was the guest speaker for the outdoor school, and he also taught a class to the fifth- and sixth-graders. Holbrook has served as a youth director at many levels, and as Pathfinder director at the General Conference level (1997-2005). Currently, he is the director and curator of the Oklahoma Conference Camp Nature Center. His spiritual devotionals during outdoor school reflected his wealth of experience in nature and leadership training.
The New York Conference outdoor school program is unique because of its tandem education tracks designed for children in fifth through eighth grade. Fifth- and sixth-graders stay in camp to learn outdoor skills that teach them about nature and help them to survive in the wilderness. All activities emphasize techniques in cooperative learning in the context of an outdoor classroom.
Seventh- and eighth-graders take excursions into the wilderness to learn skills that sharpen their leadership skills, athletic abilities, and sense of team work. Wilderness activities this year included a canoe trip, backpacking, wilderness survival, mountain biking, caving, and horseback riding. All excursions into the wilderness this year were overnight trips that lasted three days, except for a horseback group that took day trips instead.
Three classes were taught by special instructors: Orienteering by Sue Hayford, Nature Drawing/Journaling by Monica Sargeant, and Exploring Forest Habitat by Bob Holbrook. A craft activity was directed each day by Debbie Livergood. The ninth-graders from our conference junior academy program worked in the kitchen, helping with food preparation for the week. A special “thank you” to all the volunteers for their service at camp, and to Dan Whitlow for the use of Camp Cherokee’s facilities.
Students look forward every year to the annual outdoor school program. Younger students enjoy seeing each other for these conference-led outings, and seventh- and eighth-graders enjoy the rites of passage that come with being part of the off-campus wilderness activities. As always, the New York Conference outdoor school program enhances the education curriculum in the conference, and God is honored in the process.
Bradley Booth is the New York Conference superintendent of schools.