Hello, Great Outdoors

Outdoor School Immerses Students in Nature’s Lessons

Ryan Tyler’s first impression of the Frio River Canyon was formed as her San Angelo ISD school bus navigated the winding caliche road into the Frio River Canyon: “The drive in was a little scary with all the windy roads,” she explained. But what she found at the road’s end was worth the journey: “When we ended up in the valley, it was amazing.”

Ryan joined her 5th grade classmates from Fort Concho Elementary and their teachers for a 3-day, 2-night field trip to the H. E. Butt Foundation Camp in October 2015. As participants in the Outdoor School program, the students participated in an outdoor learning curriculum designed to parallel state learning objectives—in other words, it was “school.” But the classroom they entered—1,900 acres of Hill Country terrain with its plant, insect, and animal life, was like none they’d experienced before.

“When we arrived we went into our cabins and unpacked,” said Ryan. “They were huge! Then we got ready for our first adventure, geocaching. We found a hole, and one of the staff members pulled out a garden snake.” In addition to meeting and identifying a nonpoisonous reptile up close, students learned how animals camouflage themselves, examined strata of earth along the riverbed, hunted for “bugs that have no backbones” and kayaked in the river.

Foundation staff work with educators to design programs emphasizing areas of learning where test scores may be lagging, creating hands-on learning opportunities and recreational activities to foster self-esteem and leadership skills. Programs are held mid-week when camping facilities are least utilized.

“I didn’t want to leave camp after an amazing three days,” said Ryan. “I had so much fun while I was there. When I came home I shared the experience with my family, and asked my mom to look into Family Camp.” Ryan’s mother, Brenda Tyler, applied for a scholarship for herself and her two daughters at the June 5-11, 2016, Family Camp session, and then she waited.

A few months later, Brenda surprised her daughters Ryan and Hazel with some exciting news. “[Mom] put our names on a wait list when I asked her,” said Ryan. “She told us that a spot had come open and that we were going to Laity Lodge Family Camp that summer.”

Soon Ryan wasn’t the only camp fan in her family. “Family Camp was such a wonderful experience for our family,” Brenda said. “From the minute we drove into the camp to the minute we left, the staff was attentive and amazing. We enjoyed all the activities we signed up for, but by far our favorite part of the camp was the spiritual experience we encountered. We looked forward to the morning devotional and the nightly Roundup.”

Thanks to Ryan’s experiences in Outdoor School and the family’s summer camping experience, more trips to the Canyon could be in store. “Ryan was so inspired by the counselors that she plans to pursue being a counselor herself,” said Brenda. “We are beyond grateful to be given that opportunity and hope to experience Family Camp again.”