Outdoor School

Outdoor School Program*

Twila and Doug Brown and family

Our conference first began the annual Outdoor School program that is included in the school calendar for grades five through ten, May 4-8, 1998, at Camp Yorktown Bay. The program was coordinated and directed by Twila Brown, a teacher in Hot Springs, and her husband, Doug Brown, who was the Camp Yorktown Bay director. Twila had been running outdoor school programs for nine years in other conferences before she and Doug moved to the Arkansas-Louisiana conference. That first year, forty students from four schools, Bentonville, Harrison, Shreveport, and Texarkana participated in the program. Twila directed the fifth and sixth grade program and Doug directed a seventh and eighth grade Wilderness Camp program. As a result of this program, nine students requested studies to prepare for baptism and eleven students indicated that this was the first time they had ever asked Jesus to be their best friend (Brown, 1998).

Naturalist James Welborn preparing students for a tree maze activity (Brown, 1998).

School Participation Doubles

The following year, Outdoor School was held May 3-7, 1999. Participation more than doubled from the first year, with six schools participating: Bentonville, Texarkana, Gentry fifth graders, Shreveport, Little Rock, and Minden. There were over 100 in attendance with seventy students and helpers in the fifth and sixth grade program and over thirty students and helpers in the seventh and eighth grade program. Seventeen students indicated that they would like to study the Bible and prepare for baptism, and ten students said that for the first time in their lives they were asking Jesus to be their best Friend.

Student Attendance Doubles

Year three of Outdoor School student attendance doubled again as more students became excited about the program. That year they divided the program into two weeks, May 1-5, 2000, and May 8-12, 2000, with over 100 students attending each week. A three-year rotating curriculum was planned for fifth to seventh grades that year, while the eighth grade program focused on preparing students for the next four years of their education, all taught in a wilderness setting with the students camping out and preparing their own meals. The cost to attend Outdoor School that year was $80 per student. Twila Brown directed both weeks of Outdoor School, but soon realized that being out of her classroom that long just before the end of school was not a good plan.

Co-Directors Added

Karen Ryder

The fourth year, Outdoor School was held April 29-May 3, 2001, and May 6-10, 2001. Twila Brown directed the first week with Bentonville, Bonnerdale, De Queen, Fort Smith, Harrison, Hot Springs, Little Rock, and Mountain Home attending. Stephen Burton, fifth grade teacher at Ozark Elementary, and Karen Ryder, head teacher at Shreveport, were co-directors the second week with Jefferson Heights, Minden, Ozark Elementary, Shreveport, Slidell, and Texarkana attending. Doug Brown continued directing the Wilderness Survival program for the eighth graders. The fifth year of Outdoor School, in 2002, ran much the same as year four.


Doug and Twila Brown moved to another conference in the summer of 2002, so for the sixth year of Outdoor School, Karen Ryder, assisted by Sue Peugh, directed the first week, April 28-May 2, 2003, for fifth to seventh grades. Joyce Fortner, assisted by Joan Fos and Jeff Parks, directed that week of Wilderness Survival program for the eighth graders. The second week, May 5-9, 2003, Stephen Burton, fifth and sixth grade teacher and principal of Ozark Elementary, assisted by Shirley Mooney, directed the fifth to seventh grade program, while Frank Gorney from Slidell, assisted by Don Fortner, led out in the Wilderness Survival program.

Stephen Burton Becomes Director

Stephen Burton

The seventh year of Outdoor School, Karen Ryder was no longer teaching in our conference, so the program transitioned back to one week, May 3-7, 2004, with Stephen Burton as the director. That year there were 108 students in fifth to seventh grade and thirty-one staff attending Outdoor School at the Camp. Joyce Fortner directed the eighth grade program with twenty-nine students plus six staff camping out. A program was designed for ninth and tenth grades to also be included, since some of our schools are junior academies.

Slides from 2004 Outdoor School
Video from 2005 Outdoor School
Slides from 2005 Outdoor School
Slides from 2006 Outdoor School
Slides from 2007 Outdoor School
Slides from 2008 Outdoor School

New Cabins

During 2009-2010, new cabins were built for the camp. The new cabins were duplex style as the old ones had been, but had heating and air conditioning, in addition to restrooms and showers in each side. The girls’ cabins were completed in time for outdoor school but the boys’ cabins were not ready and the boy’s bathhouse was not usable either. What to do? Line up all the boys bunks in the gym and have bunkhouse style housing.

Slides from 2010 Outdoor School

New Swim Docks

Between the summers of 2011 and 2012 the old wood and steel swimming docks that had become rusty and unsafe were removed and all-new swim docks with lifetime decks and flotation, and new diving boards were put in (House, 2012). When students arrived for Outdoor School in 2012 there were no swim docks at the waterfront and dozens of partially completed dock sections were spread all over the ball field with volunteers working hard to complete them before summer camp.

Slides from 2014 Outdoor School
Slides from 2016 Outdoor School
Slides from 2018 Outdoor School
Slides and Video from 2019 Outdoor School

*Note: There was an event called “Outdoor School” held in our conference at Camp Yorktown Bay for a week during the summer. It was built into the summer camp schedule from 1978 to 1980. This event offered remedial and developmental programs in math and reading, along with natural science for students in grades one through six (Williams, 1978) and much of the instruction was one-on-one. Specialists in math, reading, and science were brought in from all parts of Arkansas and Louisiana to work with the children (Elder, 1979). There was no resemblance between this program and the Outdoor School program started in 1998.


Brown, Twila. (1998, Jul 1). Southwestern Union Record, p. 14.

Elder, William H. (1979, Apr. 5). Ibid., p. 2.

Williams, Anna Mae. (1978, Apr. 6). Ibid., p. 6.

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