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October 2009 cover image lesser prairie-chicken

Bringing Kids Outdoors

Workshop helps educators and students reconnect with nature.

By Kathryn McGranahan

Interested in educating youth about the outdoors? Join the Texas Outdoor Education Association for its 30th Annual Fall Workshop.

This workshop, also known as the Annual State Teacher Workshop, began as Ewell Sessom’s pet project, Outdoor Adventure Workshops. As director of health, physical education and recreation at the Texas Education Agency, Sessom’s passion for outdoor education enticed 40 participants to spend a fun and educational experience in Camp Baylor. TEA held six workshops from 1974 to 1978, until Sessom’s other TEA duties pulled for his attention. He entrusted his workshops to a civic-minded teacher named John Fortner.

Funding from the Dallas Safari Club enabled Sessom and Fortner to organize the first Texas Outdoor Education Association workshop in 1979, attended by nearly 100 participants.

With additional funding from environmental and conservation groups, the workshops have been able to continue at as low a cost as possible. Each workshop brings a wide and engaging variety of activities for children and adults. Last year’s program included trail riding, Indian storytelling, hot air ballooning and photography. Attendees also enjoy chances for free prizes between sessions.

sunflower

TPWD education staff partnered with Fortner and the association in the early 1980s, teaching such topics as riflery, archery, Project WILD and fly fishing. Staff continued to be involved until Texas Wildlife Expo came along in 1992 — the same weekend as the annual workshop.

The Annual Fall Workshop is more than a chance to get outside. Workshops count as professional development for educators, fill physical education requirements and fit with Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. Some activity sessions even count as Texas Environmental Education Advisory Committee credits.

To date, TOEA workshops have reached more than 7,600 educators and 1.8 million students—many of whom attended public schools that couldn’t provide such easy access to nature.

TOEA president Don Carter is always amazed at the effect the workshops and their natural surroundings have on students. “Even the ones who give you problems behave better,” he says. “They listen to what everyone is saying. I wouldn’t trade any of them.”

The Annual Fall Workshop will be held October 2–4 in Echo Valley at H. E. Butt Foundation Free Camps, located on Highway 83, 12 miles north of Leakey, with a fee of $125. Food, drinks and lodging are provided. For more information, visit toea.org or call H.E. Butt Foundation at (830) 896-2505.

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