Skip to Content
Parent pages

National Park Foundation Announces More than One Million Students have Engaged with National Parks as Classrooms


WASHINGTON—The National Park Foundation (NPF) today announced that since 2011, it has engaged more than one million students in educational programs connecting them with national parks across the country. As the official nonprofit partner of the National Park Service, the National Park Foundation raises support from generous individuals and dedicated partners for diverse in-park educational experiences that connect kids, high-schoolers, and students of all ages to their local parks and inspires the next generation of park champions.

“National parks are vibrant living laboratories that enrich learning for students of all ages,” said National Park Foundation President and CEO Will Shafroth. “The National Park Foundation and partners are bridging the gap to make transformational experiences possible for one million students and counting, eliminating barriers to access and maximizing educational benefits.”

Over the past nine years, more than one million students, many of whom are from underserved communities, have directly benefited from engaging with parks as classrooms. Together with its donors and partners, NPF has invested $13.9 million since 2011 toward fostering the next generation of park champions.* Select projects were matched with federal funds as part of the Centennial Challenge program.

The National Park Foundation's goal is to connect 250,000 kids and adults to parks throughout 2020 via school field trips, service corps, volunteer efforts, and fellowships, thereby growing the community of people who benefit from and care about these treasured places. From local philanthropic organizations and friends groups, to local schools, to community-based organizations, partners are critical to this effort.

“Educational programs engage the next generation of park visitors who may not know or otherwise have access to national parks,” said David Vela, Deputy Director of the National Park Service (NPS). “This is crucial to developing a park experience that is more reflective of the American population, an important goal for the NPS in our second century of service.”

While national parks are found throughout the United States, several factors affect students’ abilities to access them. A lack of transportation options and financial means, working parents who are unable to provide transportation, and geographic proximity are all potential challenges to park visitation for young people.

“We have the largest urban park in the U.S. – Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area – located right in our backyard. Yet many of our students come from lower-income communities that face barriers to park access. They would never have visited it unless they had an opportunity to get into the park through their school,” said Vickie Garza, a teacher at Calahan Street Elementary School, a Title I school in the Los Angeles Unified School District. “When they see a bird they’ve never seen before, or when they touch a unique type of plant -- this brings the lessons in the classroom to life for them. It’s so much more meaningful for my students than it would be had they read about the park in a book, or seen it in a movie. It’s beautiful to see as a teacher.”

The National Park Foundation is committed to making educational experiences in parks more accessible for all people, with a specific focus on underserved populations and communities of color, in both rural and urban settings across the country. NPF’s Open OutDoors for Kids program connects elementary school-aged youth to national parks through meaningful, educational, and engaging field trips. The majority of funding for this program supports fourth grade students at Title I schools with high percentages of students from low-income families that receive financial assistance through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to help ensure they have the resources to meet academic standards. Nationally, school districts in high-poverty communities have the highest total Title I allocations per eligible student. Schools in these communities are less likely to have the resources to engage national parks and outdoor education into student curriculum.

Additionally, Open OutDoors for Kids complements the federal Every Kid Outdoors initiative focusing on 10-year-old students, the age of most fourth graders. Research indicates that children of that age are at a unique developmental stage in their learning where they begin to understand how the world around them works in more concrete ways and they are more receptive to engaging with nature and the environment. View the list of the National Park Foundation Open OutDoors for Kids grantee projects for the 2019-2020 school year.

“Accessibility is a limiting factor for so many students, especially those who come from underserved communities. The students we work with have no idea that these green spaces are here, so close to their homes,” said Kim Bott, a California State Parks Aide who partners with Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area to bring the Open OutDoors for Kids program to life for Los Angeles-area students. “This is why having ranger-led programs with built in school curriculum and free transportation is so impactful. The sooner we can get young kids into these parks, the better. We want to instill a lifetime of passion for these parks as early in these students’ lives as we can.”

The Los Angeles partnership for Open OutDoors for Kids is one of NPF’s focus cities. A program within a program, the Open OutDoors for Kids focus cities are provided with expanded investments to create successful models for how parks, schools, and other local partners can collaborate on a long-term basis to not only connect kids to parks, but also raise awareness broadly about the importance of connecting children to the outdoors and historical and cultural sites.

National Park Foundation-supported programs across the country engage students and their teachers in educational field trips, provide young adults and veterans employment opportunities that help restore public lands, connect people of all ages with the joyful experiences of giving back through volunteer events, and offer career development opportunities for teachers (such as the Teacher Ranger Teacher program) and emerging scholars. All of these efforts are part of NPF’s broader work to connect people to and protect national parks.

Thanks to private philanthropy, including support for Open OutDoors for Kids from Find Your Park/Encuentra Tu Parque premier partner Union Pacific Railroad and partners such as the 3M Open Fund, Apple, Columbia Sportswear, OARS, Parks Project, Sierra, Niantic, and Winnebago Industries Foundation, the National Park Foundation is investing $2.5 million in educational programs across the country during the 2019-2020 school year. The Batchelor Foundation, Inc., Cornelia T. Bailey Foundation, George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation, and Wilmes Family Charitable Foundation also provided generous contributions to this effort.

“A picture is worth a thousand words, but a positive experience, immersed in the wonder of our national parks can have a life-long impact,” said Scott Moore, senior vice president, corporate relations and chief administrative officer at Union Pacific Railroad. “Union Pacific is proud to support Open OutDoors for Kids, creating the next generation of explorers and environmental stewards.”

Individuals, foundations, and companies can support NPF’s efforts to engage more students with national parks as classrooms by visiting the NPF website.

*Since 2011, National Park Foundation donors and partners supporting efforts to engage students with parks as classrooms have included Kathleen L. Brown, Phillip R. Cox, Stephen L. Hightower, Ernesto and Socorro Vasquez, The Ahmanson Foundation, the Annenberg Foundation/GRoW @ Annenberg, The Batchelor Foundation, Inc., California Community Foundation, Disney, The Grainger Foundation, Inc., Kendeda Fund, Margaret A. Cargill Foundation Fund of the Minnesota Community Foundation, Wellsprings Family Foundation, The Willits Foundation, Wilmes Family Charitable Foundation, and several anonymous donors.

The National Park Foundation is the official charity of America’s national parks and nonprofit partner to the National Park Service. Chartered by Congress in 1967, the National Park Foundation raises private funds to help protect more than 84 million acres of national parks through critical conservation and preservation efforts and connect all Americans with their incomparable natural landscapes, vibrant culture, and rich history. Find out more and become a part of the national park community at