Inspire community support and advocate for the Outdoor Lab Schools.
Enduring Program, Inspired Students, Cherished Sites.
Founded in 1957, Outdoor Lab develops stewardship of self, community, and environment in students. A distinct program within Jeffco Public Schools, Outdoor Lab exposes youth to the outdoors and develops passion and competencies in environmental awareness and conservation. It engages all Jefferson County sixth-grade students (approximately 6,000 per year) in an immersive, residential, environmental, and civic education experience. Moreover, Outdoor Lab recruits approximately 1,000 high school leaders and another 40 high school graduates as interns each year, making the overall experience one that is scaffolded and positively develops young people over multiple years in myriad respects. There are very few programs like Outdoor Lab in the country and, as citizens, we are fortunate in Jefferson County to have it tied to our public school system.
The Outdoor Lab Foundation was founded in 2003 to spearhead strategic decision-making and fundraising efforts on behalf of Outdoor Lab. It was created by two former Principals of Outdoor Lab who wanted to create an avenue to provide small grants to the campuses for capital improvements and special initiatives. Over time, and as the fund grew, the Foundation began working more closely with Jeffco and Outdoor Lab leadership to set strategic programming priorities and to discuss alternative funding models that would facilitate growth and sustainability for the program.
For years, the Outdoor Lab Program was fully supported within Jeffco Public Schools. No tuition was required, and the maintenance and management of the sites was part of the larger school district budget. However, as with so many extracurricular activities, competition for limited school dollars began curtailing the long-term viability of the program. Specific threats to cut the program entirely were raised in 2003, 2008, and 2010 and finally, in 2012, the school district shifted to a tuition-based funding model. This has created an imbalance in who can afford to attend and which schools can afford to fund the experiences for their most under-resourced students. Moreover, neighborhood schools were asked to absorb the fees of those students who qualify for free and reduced lunch without recouping any funds from those who qualify for such support. Since that time, the Foundation has made the Tuition Assistance Program the most robust of its four strategic priorities and the bulk of the Foundation’s charitable work.