Outdoor classroom combines art, Native history, salmon, and winter recreation for Okanogan second grade students

February 2020

by Ashley Lodato, Education Director for Methow Arts

What do you get when you mix a winter day, trailside art, a park that honors salmon and the Methow People, and an outdoor ice rink? You get 78 happy second graders, that’s what!

A field trip to the Methow Valley for Okanogan School District second graders included art, ice skating, snowshoeing, the salmon cycle, Native history, and all the lessons an outdoor classroom has to offer. A collaboration among Methow Arts, Methow Trails, and the Winthrop Rink made the multi-element day possible.

The field trip began with a bus ride from Okanogan over Loup Loup pass early on a chilly morning. Two school buses dropped students off at the Winthrop Rink, where rink staff and Methow Arts staff and two teaching artists greeted them and divided them up into four groups. Two groups headed into the rink to get outfitted with skates and helmets, one group began buckling on snowshoes to explore the trailside art near the Winthrop Town Trailhead, and the fourth group trekked out under the bridge to reach Homestream Park.

Many of the students had never snowshoed before, so Methow Arts teaching artist Margaret Kingston guided them through the process of strapping on the snowshoes. Snowshoes secured, the students clomped off to experience the StorySki, which is a story-lined 1-kilometer loop that features panels of Totem Tale, a book by Methow Valley author/illustrator Erik Brooks. At each panel, students read the text together and then explored the different artistic techniques used for each painting. Led by Kingston, they discussed elements of art such as line, color, and value, as well as perspective and emphasis.

Students walked (or, rather, RAN–snowshoes did not seem to hold them back one bit) from panel to panel, Kingston and parents in tow, eager to read the next page in the book.

Bald eagles soared overhead, the graceful lines of the Spring Creek Bridge drew the eye from the periphery, and water droplets glistened as hoarfrost melted off the trees. There was something beautiful to look at in every direction.

The groups all rotated through the various activities, so everyone got to ice skate, visit Homestream Park, and tour the StorySki.

At Homestream Park–a new park along the banks of the Methow River dedicated to the rivers and fish of the Methow Valley, and to the native people, past and present, who have called this place home for thousands of years–students met interpretive instructor David LaFever, who taught them about the life cycle of salmon, salmon’s importance in Native history, salmon’s symbiotic relationship with riparian ecosystems, and how art (specifically the art of Smoker Marchand, featured at the park) helps us understand people and places.

The students’ energy and enthusiasm remained high throughout the day. Even though their little legs must have traveled at least a couple of miles over the course of the day, walking from site to site, they were still scampering up snow banks and sliding down slopes, even as the school buses returned to fetch them. Once again, the Outdoor Classroom proved a powerful–and fun!–educational tool.

This program was brought to students by Methow Arts Alliance’ Okanogan Region Arts Education Partnership, the Winthrop Rink, Homestream Park, and Methow Trails. Methow Arts serves more than 5,200 students and 380 teachers across greater Okanogan County with arts programs in classrooms in the Brewster, Methow, Okanogan, Omak and Pateros School Districts, and in the Paschal Sherman Indian School on the Colville Reservation.

Methow Arts programs in the Okanogan School District are sponsored by the ArtsWA, Icicle Fund, the Robert B. McMillen Foundation, Greg & Mary Hamilton, Okanogan Kiwanis, Okanogan-Omak Rotary, and the Community Foundation of North Central Washington.