Students learn outdoor skills —and build confidence and teamwork. photo by Ceili Cornelius
Students learn outdoor skills —and build confidence and teamwork. photo by Ceili Cornelius
And it has shaped the lives of many an Outlaw (see related story, page 17).

Boyd Keyser, then-principal of SHS, believed in integrative programming and assigned three teachers to create an interdisciplinary class. Those teachers are still teachers in the classes today: Glen Herron, Rand Runco, and Samra Spear.

Rand Runco created co-op PE classes, integrating outdoor recreation. Samra Spear taught English and literature; Glen Herron taught geology and science. Rob Phelps brought in social studies. The interdisciplinary class was created around Sisters’ long history of kids being outdoors and learning outside.

“I think seeing the program through the lens of learning about a sense of place and the importance of that is why we do it,” said Runco.

“I love to see kids develop a love and respect for the world around them,” said Spear.

The instructors emphasize the importance of having a sense of place, not just in Sisters, but wherever they are. Spear loves seeing how kids make the connection between English and the outdoors.

“With this integrative teaching, nothing was bigger than something else or more important,” said Runco.

“I like seeing how it all ties together for kids. I think they retain more material during the integration aspect and realize the connection between the classroom and the outdoors,” Spear said.

Spear does a lot of themed and place-based education and projects in her classes. Students read and focus on things that have to do with what area they are studying. They also do art and project-based activities in the spring, working with Upper Deschutes Watershed Council.

The class focuses heavily on leave-no-trace camping, environmental impacts of humans and animals, literature about Oregon rivers, and the science of the mountains, rivers and rocks of Central Oregon.

Herron, who teaches geology and science, instructs students on the surroundings in the classroom. The students are then able to take what they learn out into nature and experience it for themselves.

“There is more ownership of learning by opening kids up to the outdoors and they are able to take their education into their own hands,” said Herron.

Throughout the class, students work in small groups and branch outside of their norm.

“I see students who are really quiet in the classroom open up and be a lot more active on the trips and gain a lot more confidence” he said.

There is a lot of team-building outside of the classroom, which teaches students how to work with people.

Students are able to hear from experts in the field, outdoors, applying what they learn in the classroom to the place where they live.

“Partnerships have been developed here with the program that are really important and a big part of it,” said Herron.

Most importantly to Runco, it allows for students to learn about the environment around them in a very untraditional classroom.

IEE is offered to Sisters High School students in their junior year and is application-based. Seniors can also participate as interns — a more rigorous process and a large commitment, but an opportunity to become outdoor leaders.

The class runs throughout the school year on the semester schedule. The first part of the term is focused on the Cascades region of Central Oregon, with the expedition being a three-day backpacking trip up Middle Sister, which includes a trek on Hayden Glacier. Students wear belts and crampons, making it “the official experience.”

The second half is focused on the region east of the Cascades in the basin and range. Students learn about the river systems and geology of the region. There is also a focus on learning belaying and rock-climbing technique and safety. The expedition in the spring is a three-day raft trip down the Deschutes River. During the winter months, the students spend time in the surrounding area doing snowshoeing and winter-safety activities.