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God’s Classroom: HIS Outdoor School

InstitutionsHolbrook Indian SchoolGod’s Classroom: HIS Outdoor School
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“Speak to the earth, and it will teach you” Job 12:8 (NIV).

Wilderness Survival: Starting a fire.

Students at Holbrook Indian School (HIS) spent one week of school outside at the Grand Canyon. About 188 miles northwest of campus, HIS students from grades 8 to 12 camped out at the south rim of the Grand Canyon to experience school beyond the confines of classroom walls and textbook covers. From September 29 to October 6, the students learned important life lessons through and from nature’s lesson book. At Holbrook Indian School, this annual five- to seven-day excursion is known as Outdoor School.

Geology of the Park: Canyon layers illustration.

What is Outdoor School?
Anita Ojeda leads the team that plans this annual event. She describes the aim of Outdoor School as an opportunity “for students to experience wholeness—mentally, academically/artistically, physically, and spiritually.” This four-pillared concept makes up the acronym known as MAPS. It is part of the school’s larger objective incorporated into all aspects of learning at HIS. Memorable experiences like Outdoor School, where students and teachers interact outside the classroom, provide the secret ingredient to the family atmosphere at HIS. Outdoor School thus serves as a perfect encounter for sharpening mental health, the arts and academics, physical wellness, and spiritual growth.

Geology of the Park: Canyon layers illustration.

HIS rotates Outdoor School at several national and state parks across the mid-west /western region. The parks include: Zion National Park, Kodachrome Basin, Bryce Canyon National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, and Grand Canyon National Park. There is also one city trip to San Diego, where students learn oceanography at La Jolla Beach.

How does it work?
Outdoor School lasts five to seven days, usually taking place in late September or early October, depending on the destination and logistics. For the most part, students and staff camp the entire time when staying at national or state parks. Students participate in all-morning and all-afternoon classes that last four hours each per day, except for Sabbath. Some classes, such as wilderness hikes, go for the full eight hours.

Wilderness Hike:
Hiking below the rim.

What do students learn?
Learning through Outdoor School begins long before the students step foot on the campsite. This year, the staff involved students in the planning process in a creative and educational way. Using an application style system, teachers submitted “résumés” to the students communicating their backgrounds, preferences, and strengths. Students read through the résumés and decided on classes they wanted each teacher to teach based on those résumés. The students then wrote friendly business letters to the teachers, asking them to consider instructing a class that the students felt was a good fit.

Geology of the Park:
Canyon layers illustration.

This year’s Grand Canyon Outdoor School classes included: Camp Cooking, Navajo Culture, Fry Bread, Wilderness Survival, Birding, Photography, Animal Tracking, Map Reading, Geology of the Park, Human History of the Park, and Biomes of the Park.

In addition to deciding on the classes to be taught, students worked in small groups to plan the travel routes, a budget, menus, Sabbath activities, and campsite assignments. The groups sent proposals to the different staff members.

Students thus learned how to write business letters, thank you letters, and proposals leading up to Outdoor School. By the end of Outdoor School, they understood the planning needed for a large event. They acquired a sense of ownership as well as the education learned from the various classes.

Spiritual experience
The deans and counselors prepared the morning and evening worships. HIS board member Charlie Whitehorse spoke to the students during the weekend. The planning team chose “Grand Design” as the theme, and Job 12:7-10 was the theme text. Teachers incorporated this theme into their classes.

Why Outdoor School?
Outdoor School is a multifaceted tool for priming student-teacher relations for each school year. “The relationships we build with students and the shared experiences act as springboards for engaging students once we return to the classroom,” said Ojeda. “When we know our students, we can use examples from Outdoor School to engage them in subjects they might otherwise view as boring. When we know our students and what they accomplished during OS, we can build on that as examples and illustrations for other classes.” It’s a big part of why this event is planned for the beginning of the school year.
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By Chevon Petgrave and Anita Ojeda

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