SALEM — Queen of Peace students are far from deficient in time spent outdoors. They are encouraged to bring appropriate gear — from rain jackets to snow boots — that corresponds with the current weather, so they are able to play carefree and are comfortable — not damp — when they return to their desks.

“Outdoor play is an important part of growing up at Queen of Peace,” said Carl Mucken, principal.

Many improvements have been made on the campus grounds to ensure that spaces are designed to be inclusive and full of opportunities to explore. According to school leaders, one of the most exciting developments at the school this year is the addition of an environmental education team on staff. This means students are receiving outdoor lessons and experiencing nature on a regular basis.

“Respect for nature as stewards of God’s creation is what this program is all about,” Mucken said.

Nature lessons are taken outdoors as much as possible. Students are moving more, utilizing more senses, gaining knowledge of native plants, as well as a respect for their planet and for each other. Their nature pledge is recited numerous times in and outside of the classroom: “We are here to honor and respect God’s creation and we are here to honor and respect each other.”

In October, third and fourth graders enjoyed a multiday outdoor school adventure at Camp Cascade, where they focused on valley ecosystems. Kindergarten, first, second and fifth grade will have the opportunity to go on four field study experiences this year. While kindergartners, first graders and second graders will be exploring ecosystems in the valley, fifth grade will be snowshoeing the alpine wilderness, taking samples and sharing data with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife teams. Technology will be used in the field as well as the classroom to enhance these programs.

As fifth grader Ethan Unger says, “There is more to explore than screens!”