WASHINGTON – Students nationwide will be able to experience national parks in new and exciting ways, thanks to the National Park Foundation’s (NPF) Open OutDoors for Kids Hybrid Learning grant program. NPF is awarding grants to 32 National Park Service (NPS) sites and their partners to implement or enhance innovative distance learning programs to better serve educators and students, especially in under-resourced communities.
“National parks are America’s largest classrooms, and the National Park Foundation is committed to helping students, teachers, and families navigate learning during the pandemic and beyond,” said National Park Foundation President and CEO Will Shafroth. “From green time to screen time to family time, the National Park Foundation is helping the National Park Service and parks community engage students with educational opportunities across the country.”
With more than 400 parks across all fifty states and the U.S. territories, the NPS traditionally hosts more than 60,000 in-park and distance learning education programs annually, serving over 1.8 million students.
"The traditional class trip to a national park has been impacted by the pandemic and the National Park Service is pivoting its approach to engage students with curriculum-based learning using new and innovative methods," said National Park Service Deputy Director Shawn Benge. “We are grateful to the National Park Foundation for their support to address the challenges of this moment in ways that will also serve educators and students in years to come."
Recognizing that the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted how and where students are learning, NPF collaborated with the NPS to facilitate a program design workshop in September 2020 with leading experts in evaluation, digital programming, community engagement, and national park leadership. The goal being to advise on how NPF and NPS can meet the needs of students, teachers, schools, and communities during these uncertain times and how lessons learned can be applied in the long-term. The workshop led to the Open OutDoors for Kids Hybrid Learning program, an extension of NPF’s Open OutDoors for Kids Field Trip program.
Hybrid design and a holistic approach to distance learning, which includes non-internet and internet-based elements, are among the most critical aspects of the program. Tools and program design developed during the past year will continue beyond the pandemic.
At Big Hole National Battlefield in Montana, park staff will collaborate with the Colville, Nez Perce, and Umatilla tribes to share more expansive stories through distance learning activities, including pre-recorded virtual tours and presentations by cultural demonstrators that extend engagement with nearby communities.
"Big Hole National Battlefield is eager to provide students, no matter their location, with a virtual space to learn about the history of such a culturally significant site," said acting Park Superintendent Ashley Adams. "The grant from National Park Foundation reinforces the park's commitment to quality education programming and collaboration with partners."
In Florida, Castillo de San Marcos National Monument and the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind are co-creating curriculum-based 3D products that will supplement a series of lesson plans, ranger videos, and hands-on activities that digitally bring elements of place-based learning to students.
At Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument in Washington, D.C., Teaching Hard History consultants will engage students with more expansive stories through the park’s collections, including the experiences and contributions of Black women who fought for the right to vote and continued the struggle for civil rights and full equality.
In California, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks education team engages kindergarteners through eighth graders with virtual curriculum-based programs that introduce students to national parks, teach them about bears and bats, and offer opportunities to learn about the Kaweah and Kings Rivers watershed.
New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park in Louisiana will partner with the New Orleans Jazz Museum to enhance their existing field trip programs that connect youth in innovative ways to the city’s musical culture and the foundations of American jazz.
For a full list of grantees and projects, visit NPF’s website.
“The purpose of the Open OutDoors for Kids Hybrid Learning program is to support parks along a spectrum of capabilities, from parks that are brand new to distance learning to those seeking to scale-up existing hybrid programming,” said National Park Foundation Chief Program Officer LaTresse Snead. “As a critical piece of the program, guiding principles that help advance equity were identified.”
The Open OutDoors for Kids Hybrid Learning grant program supports four guiding principles: Adaptation, Inclusion, Co-creation, and Shared Learning.
- Adaptation encourages parks to pilot, test, and implement hybrid learning modules.
- Inclusion centers on creating space for all and ensuring that all students see themselves in parks.
- Co-creation incorporates teacher engagement with parks from the start to meet their needs in this moment.
- Shared learning embraces the use of different strategies to develop and document successful models developed in this pilot initiative.
Thanks to private philanthropy, including support for Open OutDoors for Kids from Union Pacific Railroad, a premier partner of NPF’s Youth Education and Engagement initiative; Winnebago Industries Foundation; Niantic; Sierra; Columbia Sportswear; Parks Project; The Batchelor Foundation, Inc.; Humana; and many individual donors, NPF is investing nearly $1 million in the Open OutDoors for Kids Hybrid Learning program supporting communities across the country during the 2020-2021 school year.
Since 2011, NPF has engaged more than one million students in educational programs connecting them with national parks across the country. Earlier this year, NPF announced its goal to connect another one million students to parks over the next four years.
Individuals, foundations, and companies can support NPF’s efforts to engage more students with national parks as classrooms by visiting the NPF website.
ABOUT THE NATIONAL PARK FOUNDATION
The National Park Foundation works to protect wildlife and park lands, preserve history and culture, educate and engage youth, and connect people everywhere to the wonder of parks. We do it in collaboration with the National Park Service, the park partner community, and with the generous support of donors, without whom our work would not be possible. Learn more at nationalparks.org.