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  • Writer's pictureDani Hatfield

Partnership Builds Community and Personal Growth Through Outdoor Experiences

“I’ve seen the quality of this program and the quality of this camp through the eyes of an educator, and I’ve also seen it through the eyes of a parent,” Papillion La Vista Community Schools Superintendent Andrew Rikli, Ed.D. noted. “I’m just deeply grateful for the opportunities that the camp has offered our students and our families.”

Outdoor Education has been a tradition for 6th graders at Papillion La Vista Community Schools for more than 40 years—first at Hitchcock Park then at the Eastern Nebraska 4-H Camp.

When the 4-H camp closed in 2020, panic swept the students and teachers with a fear that Outdoor Ed. would be coming to an end. Then the administration discovered Carol Joy Holling Camp, Conference & Retreat Center.

“The one common theme that we have found is the importance of collaboration—the emphasis on kids getting to experience the outdoors in an authentic way, and then having the facilities to support all of that,” Dr. Rikli added. “This camp has been able to accommodate all of those things, and it’s just been a terrific experience.”

Through this partnership, Papillion La Vista students have been able to participate in a two-day outdoor education experience that includes both science and social-emotional curriculum.

“Outdoor Ed. is designed to be a multidisciplinary experience, that is it includes elements of social studies, science, and physical education, but at its core, it really is a community-building experience,” Dr. Rikli explained. “Kids build community amongst other students,

amongst other 6th graders that they may not have much experience with.”

The Papillion La Vista school district has 16 elementary schools, and schools hold their Outdoor Ed. experiences in pairs. This means 6th graders not only learn and grow with peers from their school, but also another elementary school in the district.

“It really is about building relationships and building community—not only with students, but with staff members—and communing with the great outdoors, and that’s a pretty cool thing to see,” Dr. Rikli expressed.

For many students, the highlight is the one day they stay into the evening for a presentation from Wildlife Encounters, as well as campfire activities and an astronomy lesson.

“We think that there’s a huge amount of value in saying to all 6th graders, regardless of your background or what elementary school you come from or your socioeconomic status, you’re going to get a chance to experience the outdoors in a controlled setting, in a safe setting, but also in a way that encourages you hopefully to think about how you may have future opportunities to spend time outdoors,” Dr. Rikli shared.

Thanks to the financial support of the Papillion La Vista Schools Foundation and the staff and facility at Carol Joy Holling Camp, Conference & Retreat Center, Outdoor Education will continue to be a forever memory for Papillion La Vista 6th grade students.

“This really is a capstone event for our kids, regardless of grade level,” Dr. Rikli acknowledged. “It’s something that they remember. It’s something that they only get

to experience once in their 13 years with Papillion La Vista Community Schools, but it’s such a profound experience it carries with them beyond graduation.”

Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministries (NLOM) recognized Papillion La Vista Community Schools with the Partnership Award for providing educational opportunities for children to grow in the outdoors at the tenth annual Heart of Camp Gala on April 1.

“We do this program not because we’re seeking awards or recognition,” Dr. Rikli emphasized. “We do it because it’s the right thing to do. We do it because it creates opportunities for kids. And we do it because we feel it strengthens families.”

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