Wallowa County: Fifth graders in Wallowa county get action-packed outdoor experiences to fill the gap left when school days were cut to 4 days.

When tight budgets cut Wallowa County public schools to four days a week, the community-minded people at non-profit Wallowa Resources saw a need to fill the kids’ Fridays, and an opportunity to teach and increase awareness of the area’s natural wonders and the challenges to their survival.

With the help of Gray Family Foundation funding, WREN (Wallowa Resources Exploration of Nature) was created to fill the Fridays of fifth through eighth grade students with hands-on and self-discovery activities, at little or no cost to students and families. According to Amy Busch, WREN’s Youth Stewardship Education Coordinator, “Each class explores Wallowa County’s natural and cultural history. WREN is an action-packed experience. Confidence is created through skill development; new friendships are the results of teamwork. WREN promotes an environment of nature exploration, dreaming big and daring to be all you can be. WREN shapes a kid’s character and life by providing a safe, controlled environment where kids are able to make their own decisions.”

One recent class focused on navigation through geocaching. Busch said, “Students learned how to use GPS units by setting up their own mini caches which other students had to find. Then we spent the rest of the day seeking out eight different geocaches hidden throughout Wallowa Valley.”

While the program meets state education standards, the students help decide what they want to learn. “It’s a really fun program” said Busch, “The kids don’t feel like they’re learning. Letting them help choose the topics has made the program really successful.”