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Outdoor learning adventure

FALLS CITY -- Tommy Shelden glances nervously up at a rope strung 40 feet in the air between two trees at Camp Tapawingo outside of Falls City.

Sixth-grader Morgan McCarley goes for a ride on the "flying squirrel" as classmates and teachers propel her Friday.

Photo by Pete Strong

Sixth-grader Morgan McCarley goes for a ride on the "flying squirrel" as classmates and teachers propel her Friday.

May 21, 2013

FALLS CITY -- Tommy Shelden glances nervously up at a rope strung 40 feet in the air between two trees at Camp Tapawingo outside of Falls City.

The LaCreole Middle School sixth-grader is in a harness connected to the rope through a pulley system and in a few minutes he will be launched into the air by 11 of his classmates.

They are learning about force and motion this mid-May day as part of an "outdoors school" camp. The ride on the rope and pulley system is the hands-on lesson highlight.

Tommy double checks his harness and helmet and looks back to the rope.

"Oh, that's really high," he said.

He will know just how high in a minute.

To launch himself, Tommy is told to run in one direction and his classmates will pull the rope in the opposite, lifting him off the ground, in the activity called "flying squirrel."

Brad Schmidt, the camp's manager, gives Tommy some preflight advice.

"Don't stop running. Don't pick up your feet. And don't jump," he said, emphasizing the last part. "You just keep running until they take you off your feet."

Tommy takes a breath and yells: "This squirrel is ready to fly!"

His team replies: "This team is ready to pull!"

They take off running in opposite directions and Tommy is in the air almost immediately.

He reaches the top within seconds and dangles for a brief instant before leaning back and flipping upside down in a "Spiderman" move to the cheers of his team, who begin to slowly lower him back to earth.

Camp Tapawingo activity teacher Ethan McKinney helps LaCreole students AnnaLisa Kakacek, right, and Nahla Hamilton at a knot-tying activity station Friday.

Photo by Pete Strong

Camp Tapawingo activity teacher Ethan McKinney helps LaCreole students AnnaLisa Kakacek, right, and Nahla Hamilton at a knot-tying activity station Friday.

"I'm already coming down?" he said, all anxiety washed away.

Welcome to Wildcat Science Camp.

The overnight learning adventure for LaCreole sixth-graders at the camp featured more than a cool ride. There were workshops on wilderness survival, fishing, searching for microorganisms in water, compass reading and art -- as well as a few free-time adventures in the woods.

"We are trying to give them a camp experience, too," said Jane Schmidt, Brad's wife and fellow caretaker at the camp. "We had a campfire last night."

Jane Schmidt, also a substitute teacher at LaCreole, designed the camp's itinerary using sixth-grade science learning standards.

"They are actually doing what they need to do for their grade level, but they are doing it outside in a different way," she explained.

Workshops were led by student teachers or education majors from Western Oregon University or Corban University, giving LaCreole's teachers time to enjoy the surroundings as well.

Brandon Jones, 11, strikes a pose while harnessed into the "flying squirrel," a rope-and pulley- system where a group of students pulling on one rope cause the "squirrel" to shoot up into the trees.

Photo by Pete Strong

Brandon Jones, 11, strikes a pose while harnessed into the "flying squirrel," a rope-and pulley- system where a group of students pulling on one rope cause the "squirrel" to shoot up into the trees.

"We knew we wanted to do a camp experience, so when we were presented with this opportunity -- that they would tailor it to our school -- that was a really exciting thing for us," said teacher Erin Rogers.

Students from the classes of Rogers and two other sixth-grade teachers, Abra McGuffey and Tiffany Walter, stayed at the camp on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week. The rest of the sixth-grade class camped Thursday and Friday.

While the camp is not at all like regular classes, student Landan Anderson gave himself a homework assignment anyway.

Gazing through a microscope May 15 at water fished from a creek and pond at the camp, Landan saw what he calls "microcreatures."

"One looks like a chair and another one looks like a bubble, but they are both moving," he said, adding discovering the microorganisms was a little weird "knowing that I swim in there (the water) all summer."

"Maybe when I get home, I will look for them to find out what they are," he added.

Mystery creatures aside, Walter said she heard from many of her students that they wished they could stay all week.

"It's a lot more fun than school," said student Haley Iott, smiling. "They (Camp Tapawingo) make you feel at home."

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