Looking for a Memorable and Educational Experience? Be an Outdoor School Student Leader.


Photo Credit: Anna Stiffler

If you went to middle school in Oregon, you might remember loading onto a bus with a suitcase and duffle bag filled with a sleeping bag, pillow, and outdoor-appropriate clothing. As you walked onto the bus and waved goodbye to your parents for the week, you might have been filled with excitement for what the next week would bring or maybe a little bit of uncertainty about being away from home for so long. Or just maybe it was a little combination of both.

After a bus ride that seemed to stretch on forever, you’ve finally arrived. As you walk down the steps and off the bus you’re greeted by trees and a welcome song being sung by staff and student leaders. Your week at outdoor school is about to begin.

Outdoor school is an opportunity for sixth graders to learn about nature and science while they spend a week away from home and the city. During their time there, they learn about animals, soil, plants and water. For each field study they complete, they receive a bead. Beads can also be earned from student leaders, who each have their own bead. In the evenings, everyone gathers around the campfire for songs and skits.

Outdoor school is only possible because of the staff, teachers, and student leaders that dedicate their time. So why should you be a student leader?


You can get college credit/ community service hours: While you’re there you get to work with different staff members. In general, you have two “advisors,” a field instructor and a personal mentor. Over the week you get to ask questions and gain advice from them. At the end of the week, they give you an evaluation telling you what you did well and what you can continue to work on. During this evaluation, they also tell you if you can receive credit for the week. If you choose to not receive credit or don’t gain it you can still get recognition for your hard work by gaining community service hours.


Gain leadership experience and skills: One of the jobs of being a student leader is helping teach one of the field studies. You talk to your field instructor about different learning/teaching techniques and how to meet the different needs of students. These skills you learn can be applied elsewhere while at outdoor school and in your everyday life. In the morning there is also a “group training” time where you discuss the importance of leadership skills such as tone, patience and adaptability. During this time you also get to reflect and make daily goals on which of these leadership skills you’ve been doing well at and which you still need to work on.


It looks good on a resume: It’s not easy guiding a cabin full of middle schoolers. Some are excited to be away from home, others are homesick. Some of them have never slept in the same room as someone else. You might have a cabin of students who want to go to bed early or who don’t want to wake up, or you might have a cabin that doesn’t want to go to bed. You need to know what to do in each of these different situations, and no two solutions will be the same. Being an outdoor student leader shows that you are a problem solver, responsible, adaptive and good at communicating. It also shows that you are part of a community, encouraging of others and a positive role model.


It immerses you in a positive and encouraging community: Part of the magic that makes outdoor school so much fun is its positive environment. At outdoor school, everyone is encouraging everyone else to be their best selves. At the beginning of the week, a lot of the middle schoolers don’t get the point of outdoor school and they don’t want to be there, but at the end of the week, they don’t want to leave. This is because one of the biggest things emphasized to student leaders is meeting the students where they’re at while still challenging them to grow. This can look like anything from making a new friend from a different school or getting the chance to learn about something they’d never heard about before. It’s not just the student leaders encouraging the students but also their peers and the staff at the site. By the end of the week, the camp is a community.


You can make awesome connections: Being an outdoor school student leader allows you to make awesome connections with other high school students you wouldn’t have met otherwise. Each week, high schoolers from all over arrive as strangers and leave as friends, bonded over managing 60-100 sixth graders. Not only do you make connections with the other student leaders there, but also the sixth-grade students. Whether they’re part of your cabin, just want your bead or are at your table for a meal, you’re bound to make at least one sixth-grade friend. 


It allows you to build confidence: To help lead others and teach others you need to have confidence in yourself. Going into being a student leader you need to have some confidence in your ability, but as that week goes on it will only grow as you see the students looking up to you and bargaining for your bead. As the week progresses you also grow confident in your teaching.


You get to spend a week in nature: When you live in the city and go to school in the city, no matter how much time you get to spend outside you don’t get to truly appreciate nature until you’re living in it for a week. As a student leader, you also get a little bit of a “tech detox,” since you aren’t allowed to use technology around the students. Being in nature allows you to see things like the stars more vividly than you do when you are in the city or attached to your phone.

Leigh Sullivan “Briar” a student leader at West Wind

When the week is over, you help sing the students out, and after finishing up a few more tasks, you too load back onto a bus to drive back into the city. As a student leader, you are many things to your cabin of middle schoolers—a role model, a teacher, a problem solver and most importantly a friend. The skills you learn as a student leader can be applied to any part of your future life, and the memories you make in just one week keep student leaders returning year after year.