ODL Overnight Chaperone Issue

In Spring of 2023, APS paused 5th grade Overnights to review safety and staffing procedures.

APS added an additional administrator to ODL staff and requires one ODL administrator and one ODL staffer to be at every Outdoor Lab Overnight.  Meet the ODL Staff Here.

Over the summer, new safety policies and procedures were developed for overnights:

  • Large 12-person cabin tents were purchased (to replace multiple 3-4 person tents)
  • 8-10 students are assigned to sleep in a cabin tent (previously 3-4 students/tent)
  • 2 adult chaperones are required to sleep in each cabin tent (previously adults slept in their own small tents)
  • Ratio of adult chaperones to students must be 5:1 (previously 10:1 for overnights; remains 10:1 for 3rd & 7th grade trips)
  • Adult chaperones must be of corresponding male/female ratios to students
  • Adult chaperones consist of both School Staff and Parent Volunteers (minimum # school staff also required)
  • All Parent Chaperones must pass online APS Volunteer background check & training 3 weeks prior to ODL Overnight Trip.

In August 2023, All elementary school principals were notified of the new Overnight policies and procedures.  Likewise, all school science leads were given the Outdoor Lab field trip schedule and notified of the new Overnight policies and procedures.  The AOEA, as the APS partner in the Outdoor Lab, has asked APS to notify the APS community more broadly of the changes.

Unfortunately, some of the first schools on the schedule were caught with tight deadlines and a confusing process.  The online Volunteer background check process and training were initial frustrations.

Lessons Learned for all schools, parents & PTAs:

  • each school has an APS Volunteer Liaison that manages the approval process (Liaison List by School Here)
  • volunteers start the online process at the APS Volunteer in a School webpage
  • when a parent registers online to be a volunteer, they get a thank you email (from Raptor System donotreply@raptortech.com, check your SPAM folder)
  • their request waits in a queue of the Volunteer Liaison at “their” school
  • when that liaison advances the request, then the email with the sexual misconduct video is sent to parent (from Raptor System)
  • parent completes the online training, passes the end of class test (80% correct) DO NOT LEAVE online training system yet
  • parent must DOWNLOAD certificate of completion from online training and EMAIL to their school’s Volunteer Liaison
  • once Liaison receives that completion email, they can approve Volunteer

There are a few points in the above process that can cause a delay.  Please work directly with school Volunteer Liaison if you are waiting on them.  All APS volunteer liaisons will be sent the Outdoor Lab Field Trip Schedule for their school.  If there is a problem that the school Volunteer Liaison cannot deal with, parents or schools can contact Dawn Smith, Volunteers, Partnership and Events Manager, at dawn.smith@apsva.us or 703-228-2581.

The AOEA, the non-profit that partners with APS to manage the Outdoor Lab, wants all APS students to experience all programs at the ODL.  If you have other lessons learned, questions or suggestions, please reach out to Mike Maleski, President of the AOEA, at president@outdoorlab.org.

What’s it like chaperoning an ODL Overnight

Many parents ask what its like chaperoning an overnight field trip at the Outdoor Lab. Generally, its like being a counselor at summer camp. You’ll guide the students through all activities, help with the family style meals in the dining area, and sleep with the students overnight. Many parents remember their chaperoning experiences fondly (even current school board members!)

In case of inclement weather, all students and chaperones move into our Nature Center for sleeping.

The Outdoor Lab Staff is developing information videos and slide decks to help parents understand what its like.

ODL celebrates Hispanic Heritage

The Arlington Outdoor Education Association and the Outdoor Lab Staff celebrate national Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept 15 – Oct 15 annually)

We honor the many Hispanic Americans who have contributed to our schools, community and country.  And celebrate our Latinx students who contribute their talents, skills and culture in all schools every day.

ODL @ the ArlCo Fair 2023




Visit the Outdoor Lab’s Booth at the Arlington County Fair starting Friday August 18 at Thomas Jefferson Middle School and surrounding grounds, at 3501 2nd Street S.

After your Goat Yoga and before the Pig Races, cool off inside and visit the Outdoor Lab Booth!

We’ll have new Outdoor Lab Merch, including T-shirts, car magnets and more.

Join us at the Arlington County Fair:

  • Fri   August 18 4p – 10p
  • Sat  August 19 10a – 9p
  • Sun August 20 11a – 7p

ODL Supports LGBTQ+ Pride

The Arlington Outdoor Education Association (AOEA) supports the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ+) Pride Month!

The Outdoor Lab is welcoming to All Students and Families, no matter their sexual identity or orientation.

Please join us in celebrating and advocating for diversity, equity and inclusion for the LGBTQ+ community in Arlington and our world.

AAPI Heritage Month @ ODL

This May, the Outdoor Lab and the AOEA celebrate Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

With staff and directors with AAPI heritage in our families, we’d like to honor all Asian American and Pacific Islander families, their contributions to science and education and the building of our nation.

In this time of violence against AAPI individuals and communities, we stand together with all who speak out against hate, bigotry, and exclusion.

RAIN PLANS Open House- Sat April 22


Due to predicted rain and thunderstorms on Saturday April 22nd, we are planning to:

-end the Open House at 1pm (when weather is supposed to get worse.)

For those ticket holders of 10a-1p sessionyou can come as planned.

For those ticket holders of  1p-4p session, you can come to the MORNING SESSION 10a-1p!

We will plan to do as many activities as the weather allows, but there may be a few showers in the morning. 

We will move some programs inside if possible and have a tent over the campfire for S’MORES!

Please bring rain gear and sturdy shoes. 

The Outdoor Lab is wonderful on a warm, cloudy day.  Students go outside for field trips no matter the weather.  (Some animals venture out and fish seem to be hungrier;)

Thank you for understanding.

Mike Maleski, President

Celebrate EARTH DAY at the Outdoor Lab Open House scheduled for Saturday April 22nd 10a-1p OR 1p-4p.

The Outdoor Lab welcomes all Arlington Families to the Open House. Grab your “pod” and explore our 226 acres of mountain trails, meadows, streams and pond.  While at the Lab, your family can:

  • fish in the pond (cane poles & worms provided!)
  • paddle the boats
  • hike our trails (over 5 miles, various hiking abilities)
  • observe critters in our Nature Center (maybe pet a snake?)
  • find a perfect spot for a family picnic! (bring your lunch!)
Get your Tickets!

To help manage visitors, we need families to pre-register through Eventbrite here.

  • Please choose EITHER 10a-1p ticket OR 1p-4p ticket (NOT BOTH) This will allow us to allow as many families as we can.
  • Each ticket is for one Carload. Please do NOT register for a ticket for each person in your car.
  • Tickets are “donate what you can online” or “FREE, I’ll donate later” (The Outdoor Lab is owned by the non-profit Arlington Outdoor Education Association, a 501c3, tax exempt organization)
  • We will create a waitlist if needed, if your plans change and you don’t plan to come, please let us know

For the Safety of Visitors:

  • all visitors must sign in
  • NO Dogs allowed
  • please leave only footsteps and take only pictures
Other Info

While at the lab, talk to AOEA board members about the upcoming capital projects or how you could volunteerWe’re looking for additional board members and have lots of great projects on our plate!

You can find Directions here, look for signs and volunteers on where to park.

Bad weather, check back here for cancellations or updates.

We look forward to seeing you!

Share your pictures and tag #LovetheODL

Summer Camp 2023

Outdoor Lab Summer Camp is Back!

The Outdoor Lab offers three, week-long camp sessions that provide a number of nature-related activities and experiences to Arlington Public School students. who have completed grades 4 through 8.

A blend of traditional camp activities (hiking, evening campfires, crafts, skits) and nature exploration make this program fun and informative. Staff safely guide campers through various activities that may include aquatic studies, natural history, survival skills, and more. Campers are also provided opportunities to explore the natural world through focused activities of their own choosing and self-directed free-time activities, such as boating and fishing.

Students are transported from Arlington to the Phoebe Hall Knipling Outdoor Lab in Broad Run, Virginia on Monday morning, and returned to Arlington on Friday afternoon of the same week. Campers sleep outside in platform tents and spend most of their day outside (weather permitting). They are provided three meals and snacks every day.

Sessions for 2023

  • Session A- Middle School  (for students who just completed GR 6, GR 7, GR 8):   June 26 to June 30
  • Session B- Elementary School  (for students who just completed GR 4 or GR 5): July  10  to July 14
  • Session C- Elementary School:  (for students who just completed GR 4 or GR 5): July 17 to July 21


Parents may apply for their student to attend camp by completing a short Google form found at Outdoor Lab – Arlington Public Schools (apsva.us) (NOW OPEN).

  • Registration is CLOSED. Go here for more info
  • Applications will be accepted on a first come-first served basis until Friday, March 31 2023 or until a session is full.
  • Once a student has been accepted, the family will be emailed an invoice for the tuition.
  • Payment is by check or money order.

More Info

Summer Camp 2023 Brochure (English) ; Summer Camp 2023 Brochure (Spanish)

More information about summer camp can be found here: Outdoor Lab – Arlington Public Schools (apsva.us).

Questions about summer camp should be directed to Outdoor Lab Coordinator Rochelle Proctor at rochelle.proctor@apsva.us or 540.347.2258

Women’s History Month @ODL

The Women who make the Outdoor Lab Great

Phoebe Hall Knipling

The Outdoor Lab owes its existence to Phoebe Hall Knipling. Her vision and determination that children should experience science first hand, led to the creation of the Outdoor Lab and other pillars of Arlington science education like the Brown Planetarium, Gulf Branch and Long Branch Nature Centers. Learn more from a recent story from Arlington Library’s Womens Work series.

Anita Knipling Scott

Phoebe’s daughter Anita has served on the Board of Directors of the Outdoor Lab for years. She’s continued to build on her mother’s vision and helped thousands of Arlington families experience the joys of the Outdoor Lab.

Recently, Anita was interviewed for the Biscuit Mountain Breakdown and shared some of the early history of the Outdoor Lab. Click here to listen to podcast “Walking Down Memory Lane.”

Kendra Liddicoat

The Biscuit Mountain Breakdown podcast interviews leaders in the field of outdoor education.  Such as Dr. Kendra Liddicoat who researches memories as outcomes for programs like The Outdoor Lab.  Learn about how memories are an important feature of what happens at nature centers and how we can use that research to improve our program.  Click HERE for Podcasts.

ODL@Home- The Great Backyard Bird Count

Help scientists from home by participating in The Great Backyard Bird Count

Outdoor Lab staff have participated in such events and documented a large variety of bird species at the Outdoor Lab.  Director Emeritus Neil Heinekamp inspired generations of APS students with his bird identification expertise.  His legacy continues, with current staff staff helping students identify birds by sight and sound.  Now you can help scientists from your own backyard!  Show us your favorite backyard birds. #GBBC #LovetheODL

From Audubon.org:

The 26th annual GBBC will be held Friday, February 17, through Monday, February 20, 2023.

Please visit the official website at birdcount.org for more information and be sure to check out the latest educational and promotional resources.

  • The  GBBC is a free, fun, and easy event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of bird populations.
  • Participants are asked to count birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the four-day event and report their sightings online at birdcount.org.
  • Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, from beginning bird watchers to experts, and you can participate from your backyard, or anywhere in the world.

Each checklist submitted during the GBBC helps researchers at the  National Audubon SocietyCornell Lab of Ornithology and Birds Canada learn more about how birds are doing, and how to protect them and the environment we share. Recently, more than 160,000 participants submitted their bird observations online, creating the largest instantaneous snapshot of global bird populations ever recorded.

Bird ID Resources

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, has also created an App called Merlin Bird ID to identify the birds you see or hear.  It can help with the GBBC or anytime you’re out in nature observing birds.

Volunteer @ the ODL Open House

Help make the Outdoor Lab better than ever!  Celebrate EARTH DAY by volunteering at the Outdoor Lab Open House!

Come by yourself, grab your family or friends, or bring your group (Scouts, School Clubs, Garden Club, etc)

We still need volunteers for our Spring Open House Saturday April 22nd, EARTH DAY, 9a-4p.

No experience is necessary, but a love for nature and a desire to help others enjoy the Outdoor Lab is mandatory.

Please help us host various Arlington Families as they enjoy the Outdoor Lab.  We’ll have fishing, boating and hiking. We’ll also provide S’mores and families are welcome to bring a picnic.  A great way to earn community service hours!

We welcome VOLUNTEERS to come for part or all of the event. Help a bit and then explore and enjoy the ODL!

More Info and sign-up link here.