Building Unique Community-Based Collaborations

The National Park Foundation is Helping to Ensure the Sustainability of Every Kid in a Park
Karen LeeField Notes
Looking down on children walking on a boardwalk down a grassy field with the high-rises of Houston on the background
Karen Lee

Exciting new research is constantly being released about the positive effects of nature on cognitive, behavioral, and emotional health. This data both drives and continues to inspire the programs born from Every Kid in a Park (EKiP). The initiative, which launched in time for the 2015-2016 school year, aspired to get every 4th-grader in the U.S. into America’s public lands and waters to experience those effects.

In the 2016-2017 school year, the National Park Foundation (NPF) will reach 250,000 4th graders by providing field trip grants to cover the cost of school access to parks and federal lands. By getting kids outdoors, particularly those in underserved urban neighborhoods, we’re helping to reconnect all children with fun, safe, confidence-building adventures in national parks and public lands.

Building sustainable EKiP programing is a multi-faceted challenge. Beyond a hike in the woods, or a journey back in time to a historic house or archaeologic site, 4th graders are immersed in masterfully-crafted National Park Service (NPS) education programs through EKiP. In many cases, these programs are designed to complement their classroom learning. This is essential for ensuring the sustainability of EKiP, as teachers are more likely to bring students to parks that deliver real-world, hands-on examples of their curricula. For parks to fully engage at this level, collaborative relationships with schools, community groups, and other stakeholders are essential.

A group of 3 kids looking through binoculars outdoors
National Park Service

To support this approach, our EKiP field trip grants were expanded from a transportation-grant model to a community-based one. By asking constituents how national parks and public lands can help improve the lives of 4th graders and their families, we are able to make deeper investments in parks and their community partners to engage new audiences. Partners in nine cities embraced this idea and it is now flourishing in Houston, Miami, Seattle, St. Louis, Cleveland, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Each of these cities has approached EKiP programming in diverse and unique ways.

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, in Los Angeles, California, now has nine different 4th grade field trip programs that directly support California school curricula, with topics ranging from how plant pollinators and humans work together, to native cultures and regional history. Through innovative partnerships with the Bureau of Land Management and the Los Angeles County Fair, the park has reached more than 12,000 4th grade students, gained exposure to new audiences, and fostered relationships that will help them enhance new programs.

Two history and science curriculum coordinators for Maryland’s Baltimore Public Schools are collaborating with Fort McHenry National Monument and Historical Shrine and Hampton National Historical Site to help frame the experiences 4th graders have at each site in alignment with classroom activities. By working closely with teachers, new curricula at each national park site bring history to life in real world experiences. For example, classroom lessons on slavery become tangible to students as they examine historic newspaper ads offering rewards for the return of runaway slaves at Hampton National Historic Site.

In Houston, Texas, where Big Thicket National Preserve is a two-hour drive from downtown, the focus is on partnering with urban and suburban outdoor partners. Here, the partnerships focus on getting kids to enjoy outside learning closer to home while they’re in 4th grade, with plans to expand their outdoor experiences through summer trips, camping, and longer field trips for older grades.

3 kids and an adult smiling and holding up their Every Kid in a Park pass
National Park Service

The Seattle, Washington team is taking yet another approach in which they help to form the EKiP collaborative by bringing together The National Park Service: Klondike NHP and other Seattle NPS Units, IslandWood, National Forest Service: Mt. Baker - Snoqualmie, Seattle YMCA, Seattle Parks and Recreation, NatureBridge and Washington Trails Association. Their approach goes right to the heart of the matter by asking residents what parks can do for them.

This nine-city EKiP community-based approach reveals how national parks and  surrounding communities can collaborate. By learning to customize those connections through the lens of this 4th grade initiative, we’re strengthening our ability to promote beneficial community impact and set the stage for a lifetime of outdoor enjoyment and stewardship.

Help us support programs that engage communities to get out and explore our national parks!

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