Saturday, January 19, 2019

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It may not feel like it with our warm, clear weather – but we’re already thinking about our Winter Break camp programs. This year we return to old favorites like Winter Survival: Fire and Knives, Here We Go a-Waffling, and role-playing camps like School of Magic. We’ve also been busy coming up with some new themes for 2019. Wilders Chef: Tortillas, Tamales, and Tacos will keep you warm on a chilly winter day, while Elven Archers blends fantasy adventure with archery skills.

This is also the time of year where we also start planning for one of our favorite events of the year – the Trackers Earth Holiday Party. It’s a great way to enjoy friends, food and fun activities. Don’t forget to bring an entry for our famous cookie contest… or just sample the entries and cast your vote for the true cookie champion.

Finally, just around the corner is something brand new: Trackers Thanksgiving break camps. What better way to build up an appetite for the holiday and burn all that School’s Out energy than with some amazing outdoor camps. Get outside and explore with favorites like Wilderness Survival: Fire & Knives and Archery Adventure. Thanksgiving Break Camps are the perfect time for younger 4-5 year-old campers to try out a day of awesome Trackers themes like Faeries, Elves & Mostly Friendly Dragons and Rovers Forest Camp before Summer.

As days get shorter and nights get longer, it’s important to find community and adventure – we hope to see you soon.

See you in the woods,
Molly

P.S.: Speaking of Summer… keep an eye on our newsletter for our summer theme and location announcements, coming soon. We have some new surprises for you that we can’t wait to share.

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It doesn’t feel like an Oregon summer without a trip to the dunes! Check out our favorite photos from our Wilderness Skills Instructor Training program’s trip to the Dunes in the gallery below.

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While we believe there’s no other camp like Trackers Camp. We also understand the value of tuition is important to discuss. Our expert educators and the wild lands we teach truly play a special role in connecting kids to the wilderness. As a unique program, much of our infrastructure is more specialized than other camps. While we believe our tuition matches (or is often lower) than other schools that provide similar outdoor programming, I want to illuminate some important aspects related to our budget. We see access to education a vital part of our community and it is our responsibility to be transparent about the mechanisms behind our tuition structure.

  1. Our very low staff to student ratio is essential for mentoring. For example, we typically have 1 teacher to 7 students in our camps. Plus, a larger proportion of our staff work with us beyond the summer season. Most outdoor education industry jobs are seasonal and lack benefits or job security. In what is traditionally a seasonal field, 32 of our educators are employed with us year-round and full-time with benefits (as of 2018). Many others are supported part-time as we work towards one of our primary missions of always creating more full-time employment for teachers focused on nature connection. To our knowledge, we provide more full-time, year-round education jobs than any other camp in the region. That has the impact of creating an educational staff who are more mature and experienced than a typical camp. Our goal has always been to improve the quality of outdoor education by enhancing the professional teacher’s ability to make a healthier livelihood within it.
  1. We support Fair Wage Camps. Better wages improve both our programs and the field. We work hard to set our pay scale above camp standards—for both for seasonal and year-round staff. We compete with other camp programs who, due to a loophole in Oregon law, often pay substandard/sub-minimum wages (something Trackers Earth does not do). When registering for any camp, we advocate researching what they pay their staff; then deciding if this is a wage you would be comfortable with—many pay fair camp wages, some do not. Finally, at Trackers Earth we recognize we can always do better to provide for our teachers. We actively seek to increase their quality of livelihood with us every year. One of our biggest challenges remains to balance tuition cost (both for our programs and within the entire field) with the passionate desire to pay our staff better wages to support their hard work within their vocation.
  1. We focus on preservation and stewardship of natural land for programming. A related expense is transporting students to these places from our centralized urban locations (school buses are not cheap). More importantly, in many public parks, you cannot make a campfire, build a shelter, harvest wild plants, do many wilderness crafts, or even climb a tree. This is understandable for the preservation of these heavily used public resources. It also compels us to acquire and preserve crucial wild spaces specifically to provide these truly hands-on wilderness learning opportunities for all of our students. This also conserves these unique and beautiful lands. While many other youth outdoor programs have sold off their wild lands for development, Trackers has preserved over 171 acres of wilderness for education, much of that is within 1 mile of urban growth—and we intend to do much more in the coming years. We consider our relationship with the lands we care for as a gift: One we can share with the greater community.

To families who need tuition assistance, we have always offered robust scholarships and payment plans related to financial aid. Continuing that commitment to our families we provide more scholarships funds every year—including this coming year.

Hopefully, all this provides further insight into the depth and scope of our program.

Sincerely,

Tony Deis
Trackers Earth
Founder & Parent

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We have had a few questions as to whether we will be able to offer scholarships for our pilot Forest School Kindergarten for Fall 2016. For the first year, we do not expect to do this for the program. We want to be transparent as to why and what we hope future years will bring as to scholarship awards for our Forest School.

At Trackers, we care deeply about equality in access to education as well as providing a sustainable livelihood for our staff educators. We work to provide livelihood for our instructors to continue to offer what we believe is their important work. Running a program such as the Trackers Forest School, which lies far outside the normal education system, is a challenging undertaking. It will require meeting significant expenses not found in many programs, including how often we travel to wild spaces and the very small class size the activities require. Additionally, our largest expense has always been supporting the continued livelihood of our exceptional staff who dedicate their lives to teaching.

To our knowledge, Trackers has more full-time, year-round staff than any other outdoor education program in our area. Based on American Camp Association salary data, we pay our instructional staff above average for the field in our regions and our administrative staff lower than average—striving to always make our compensation more egalitarian. We believe everyone on our team is vital to our success. We also do not pay sub-minimum wage. This is an unfortunate loophole in Oregon law that allows camps to pay their instructional staff far less than actual minimum wage. While it does affect our budget, we believe we are better paying our people a full wage as we work to support the livelihood of our thoughtful community of educators.

We also support the idea of a $15 per hour minimum wage. In all honesty, not all our current hourly wages meet that criteria. We work hard to budget for and look forward to meeting this goal sooner rather than later, which can be challenging in an field that includes other camps who use sub-minimum wages for their staff.

Another primary area of expense is the preservation and stewardship of land, and the travel costs incurred in transporting students to these places. In many public parks you cannot make a campfire, build a shelter, harvest wild plants, do many wilderness crafts, or even climb a tree. We cultivate wild spaces specifically to provide these opportunities for all of our students while also conserving these unique lands from development. We consider our relationship with the lands we care for as a gift: One we can share with the greater community.

To support equality of access to wild spaces kids can actually use, we consistently donate use of this land to other local parent groups such as all inclusive Baden Powell Service Association (with the 55th Cascadia) and different organizations and schools.

These are conscious choices we have made to maintain the quality of our programs and the livelihood of the staff we serve. We understand that a consequence of these choices is sometimes a tuition level that is not immediately available to everyone. Through our scholarship programs, we work hard to make what we do more accessible by increasing our total scholarships each year. Our summer camps, homeschool courses, after school and apprenticeship programs have offered many full to partial scholarships based on thoughtful evaluation of individual applicant’s income and need. However, differing from these well-established programs, the Forest School is a pilot class. With the intentionally small group of students the first year, there will be less room for scholarships until the school and student body grows.

On a personal note, when I was younger, my parents could never afford to send me to camp. So I understand, empathize and greatly advocate for access while still dealing with the realities of supporting the work of our staff and ensuring the opportunities we provide are sustainable and can grow to reach more people. We ask for the support and patience of all our parents and our greater community as the program grows in its capacity so we can develop such a scholarship program for our Kindergarten. Once the program forms a strong foundation, its scholarship opportunities will grow just as our camp scholarships have.

We also encourage parents to take advantage of our camp scholarship programs. Based on feedback from families, staff and community observations, we have adjusted our income criteria and now provide a greater number of larger awards for camp programs (often 50%-100% of camp tuition). The awards are carefully distributed based on income and need.

We’re now receiving scholarship applications for Summer 2016.

Sincerely,
Tony Deis, Founder

Plenty of books have been written recently about the need for children to connect with nature. Outdoor schools, even Trackers, tout the value of nature connection. And we agree it’s important. But how does that connection really happen?

Outdoor education usually comes in two flavors: academic or recreational. Both approaches have value. Both can help foster a love and even a lifelong study of nature. However, if your exposure to nature is only academic or recreational, it’s unlikely you will ever consider yourself part of the wild.

At Trackers we run camps, but our core curriculum is tracking and survival. When I tell people we’re a “wilderness survival school,” I get varied reactions. Are you crazy conspiracy theorists? Mulder to everyone’s Scully? Preppers? Hippies?

To us, wilderness survival means dependency. Dependency on nature for your shelter, for your water, your fire and your food. Dependency on nature to stay alive in a world that is ecologically diverse and becoming more unknown to our modern society every day. We need the Steller’s jay to tell us where the deer passes, we need the nettle for food, we need the spring to quench our thirst.

Nature dependency is the goal of our apprenticeships and year-round programs. Get kids and adults outside to experience a more wild way of living. In our Mariners Apprenticeship students weave themselves into the ecology of the water. They do not  simply stalk, kill, and eat their food (with a fishing pole) but they also harvest it with care and even cultivation, leaving a sustainable future. Our Rangers Apprentices cook meals over an open fire, Wilders Apprentices tend our wild gardens, and Artisans Apprentices make tools for the village.  Even our youngest campers, the Rovers Apprentices (PreK-K), learn Forest Craft that lets them be Truly Helpful to their communities.

Certainly, our programs feature academic learning and plenty of recreational adventure, but we also recognize that the human craving to be outside is an instinct. It comes from a time when observation and empathy for the more-than-human-world was a vital survival skill.

While we certainly need a nature connection movement, we might also need a nature dependency movement. A movement where kids (and adults) develop a love for the natural world by learning how powerfully the wild can care for them.

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One day our elders will be our ancestors. We’ve all experienced such loss. We witness as they pass on, knowing sadness to be part of love. And through this grief, we become elders ourselves.

-Artisans Fire

My family’s elders, my own parents and in-laws, make me a better parent. My kids are lucky that both sets of grandparents live nearby. Tony and I can count on them to help watch the grandchildren. Then there are the great grandparents. Those who have passed we still honor. Some still live on this Earth and we treasure each visit.

Children grow to be well rounded with the contributions of elders. As parents, we offer inspiration and values which contribute to the happiness of our children, but elders become part of a greater story. They are the Earth of an extended family, of all our generations and history. Elders know a life of love that understands grief, loss and continuing on.

Elders not only allow for mom or dad to have a break, but they break the kids out of parental routines. Interestingly, through age and maturity, elders share a different perspective on life. Sharing multi-generational stories and skills fosters respect in our children. The world can be small when it’s simply us parents guiding the way.

Elders and all extended family let us know the Village is greater than ourselves. In weeding the garden with Grandma or baking bread with Grandpa, children learn community is not centered on them, but instead, they can grow-up to be truly helpful to their community. In turn, children root our elders, renewing patience and a youthful outlook for life.

Where do you find elders? It can be difficult in this world of the fissioning family. So desperate to be respected or find a connection to other generations, I’ve heard that people take “Elder Leadership Workshops and Initiations”. But is purchased status the answer? Instead, time, patience and great humor cultivates eldership. Even when not related by blood, we can seek out elders whose challenges and joys inspire us. It’s a mutual gift. Looking forward through children adds profound dimension to all our lives.

Not all elders have raised children. Yet how they interact with young people is telling. Great elders are masters of celebrating the simple moments. They appreciate cultivating the story of our shared lives. Elders hold a crucial piece in the puzzle of what is truly important to a family.

Adult and parenthood can mean being selfless, yet it can also be fraught with the hubris of modern life and fissured individualism. An extended family that includes our elders and our youngest generations can be cultivated into a fusion of love and revelry. A reunion to remind us to slow down and live the joys of every day.

Sincerely,

Molly Deis

Trackers Earth, Founder

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Remember running outside on a cold morning with only a t-shirt and shorts? Or your bare hands throwing snowballs until you could hardly stand it? Many of us wistfully recall accidentally cutting ourselves with a pocket knife while whittling sticks found in the backyard or scraping a knee after skidding around a corner, leaving us to carefully pick out rocks and other bits of Nature.

rangers-apprenticeship-november-2013_7Risk taking with Nature remains one of those elements of childhood that helps create a competent, thoughtful adult. We learn to pay attention while experiencing positive and negative consequences from the more than human world—not just being told what to do by other people.

It’s one of the greatest ironies of being a parent and even teaching at Trackers Camps. A primary tenant of my life’s work is to reduce risk. Everything has to be as safe as possible while also providing outdoor experiences that feel genuine and real.

That’s why our children’s time in the out of doors should go far beyond our camps. Educational programs like Trackers can act a springboard where kids learn useful skills, find friends and get inspired. And we’re always going to play it as safe as possible.

It’s only as parents where we have the liberty to let our children launch down the snowy hill on a sled, climb that tree to the very top and wander the woods with no aim other than grand adventure. So this winter, during its possible cold and rugged days, and in every season, let’s all remember to go outside with our kids to risk and revel with with Nature, with everything real.