It’s not exactly common to see students walking down the halls of a school carrying axes and chainsaws. But not every school has a forestry program like we do here at Waldport Middle and High School in Waldport, OR.

In our school of 265 students in grades 7–12, about 50 participate in our natural resources program that we started in 2018. Our town’s slogan is “where the forest meets the sea.” As that slogan suggests, we have a lot of natural resources around us, so this program enabled us to take advantage of our location and develop career opportunities for our students. It’s been a highly successful program. In fact, we’ve won the state championship in forestry three years in a row.

My husband is our natural resources teacher. We started small the first year, just getting the program up and running, although we were able to purchase a portable sawmill for the school. The second year, our students started taking part in “Career Development Experience Days,” where students from schools across the state get together on Saturdays to demonstrate skills that they’ve learned.

Those skills are showcased at technical events—for example, administering first aid, reading maps, identifying plants and tools, and even interviewing for jobs. The second half of the day includes more of the forestry skills, such as cross-cut sawing, log rolling, spur climbing, cable splicing, and axe throwing. These Saturday programs are what get the kids excited. We don’t ever say they are competing, because it’s all about teaching and learning, but in the kids’ minds they are trying to show off their skills and figure out who is the fastest or who has the best accuracy in different areas. The Oregon Future Natural Resource Leaders State Convention is where they officially perform, and they have won three state championships.

Our biggest community festival each year in Waldport is “Beachcomber Days,” which is traditionally held on Father’s Day weekend. We had some disruptions from COVID, but the festival did take place over the July 4th weekend in 2021, and we decided to put together a small logging show. It was a big hit and the community loved it. So, in 2022, when the festival was back with no restrictions, we put on a professional logging show one day—my husband has been doing these shows for about 30 years, and his father did them before that—and then we put on a high school program the next day.

Contestants pay entry fees and local businesses sponsor the show, and we ended up with about $800 of the proceeds going to help fund our natural resources program. Our high school kids benefitted by watching and helping with the professional show, and they competed the next day, including for cash prizes.

One thing I love about the program is that it brings together kids from very different backgrounds. You might have a student who is struggling in school, who doesn’t get good grades, and who isn’t the most popular working together with the star athlete who everybody loves and admires. But they’re high-fiving and hugging at the end because they’re state champions. The kids might not be best friends or hang out outside of school, but when you get them on the forestry field, they are family. They love each other and they support each other.

The program also brings together a lot of our teachers and departments. The English teachers, for example, help the kids with written materials, including speeches they deliver at these events. And the math teachers really getting involved with supporting technical skills like using a compass and measuring distances through walking and timber cruising, which involves measuring forests and looking at things like tree size, volume, and quality. Some teachers may have a hard time motivating a student but all of a sudden when forestry is involved, they want to write that essay or do their speech.

We just see a lot of good results like school community and pride, new skills, team building, and job opportunities. I’m very proud of my kids and my staff. It’s just an awesome place to be right now. It’s been exciting to see all the growth and improvement.

About the Author

Amy Skirvin is the principal of Waldport Middle and High School in Waldport, OR, and the 2021 Oregon Principal of the Year.

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