Clackamas County: A new outdoor school partnership makes use of an underutilized mountaineering lodge on Mount Hood.

On a clear day, Portland kids can see Mount Hood, but how many of them have actually been there?

At Lynch View Elementary School in East Portland, only four of the fifth graders had been up to the mountain. That all changed in 2016 when 52 students bundled up, strapped on snow shoes and experienced a multi-day adventure at the Mazama Lodge near Government Camp.

Back in 2008, Outdoor School was cut from the budget across seven elementary schools in the Centennial School District, including Lynch View. Meanwhile, the storied mountaineering organization Mazamas had been developing a new alpine science experience for fifth graders, utilizing its historic lodge, which is empty most weekdays during the winter. The Mazamas Mountain Science School welcomed its first group of students in February 2015. A few months later, Mazamas approached the Gray family for support to grow the program. The foundation saw the opportunity to play matchmaker with the Centennial School District, and a new partnership was born. Mazamas and the school district each contributed to costs, and the Multnomah Education Service District provided outdoor science curriculum and staffing support.

Utilizing a fall 2015 grant from the Gray Family Foundation, Mazamas brought the first two groups of Centennial fifth graders at camp during the 2015-2016 school year.

The kids had a blast. Upon returning to the classroom, one teacher reported an immediate improvement in cooperation skills and group work.

“I was really excited to hear him say that,” says Kati Mayfield, who manages volunteers and youth programs for Mazamas.

After a successful launch, Mazamas and the Gray Family Foundation worked with the School District to get all seven elementary schools on board for the 2016-2017 school year.

“This relationship is turning into something that might mean a lot to 400-plus students in the Centennial School District. It marks a really neat partnership between a nonprofit like us, a school district and an organization like the Gray Family Foundation,” Mayfield says.