WASHINGTON – National Park Trust and National Park Foundation are pleased to announce an expanded partnership during the current school year that is connecting students from across the country to national park sites in and near five major cities. The expanded partnership was created to address the changing needs of teachers and students during the pandemic by identifying and curating the best of each park’s virtual programs -- including live and pre-recorded ranger visits -- and adding hands-on learning activities.
For each park, the National Park Trust used their experience working across the country with hundreds of elementary school teachers to advise each park site on how best to use and enhance their distance learning programs to meet the challenges faced by teachers. The end result is that each park’s programs now effectively support students’ lesson plans by meeting education standards, and keeps kids engaged with national parks. Participating park sites include Indiana Dunes National Park (IN); Gateway National Recreation Area (NY); National Mall and Memorial Parks (D.C.); Gateway Arch National Park and Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site (MO); and Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield (GA).
The expanded partnership is funded by the National Park Foundation’s Open OutDoors for Kids program and builds on the multi-year partnership between the Foundation and the Park Trust’s Buddy Bison School Program, which prior to COVID-19 provided nearly 18,000 kids from under-resourced Title I schools with in-park experiences each year. To date, throughout the pandemic, more than 2,500 students have benefited from the program or are scheduled to participate this spring. In addition, this partnership has been integrated into the Park Trust’s new distance learning program, the Buddy Bison Creative Learning Program.
Two elements, the combination of virtual ranger visits and hands-on activities are pivotal to the program’s success. According to Billy Schrack, the Park Trust’s director of youth programs, “with input from our teachers and the education rangers in the parks, we set out to provide robust, park-themed distance learning and hands-on activities. Because of this partnership, we are able to enhance science and civics curriculum by connecting classrooms to virtual programs and providing all of the supplies and materials for students so they can also do the fun, hands-on activities which are so important for their intellectual development.”
Featured topics ranged from civic lessons inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C., to science lessons about maple tree sugaring in Porter, Indiana, to bird adaptations and habitat in Queens, New York, to the Atlanta Campaign of the Civil War, which extended to Kennesaw, Georgia, to Ulysses S. Grant's life at White Haven plantation and explorations of the geography and cultures along Lewis & Clark's journey in St. Louis, Missouri. Schools from across the country have signed up to participate from their homes and classrooms.
“Through a combination of in-person and virtual programs, kids are able to walk in nature, talk to rangers, and learn in new and different ways. These programs expand their minds about the living environment, history, and heritage we all share,” said Will Shafroth, president and CEO of the National Park Foundation. “The National Park Foundation is excited to continue our partnership with the National Park Trust to help students, teachers, and families experience parks during the pandemic and beyond.”
Since 2011, the National Park Foundation 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.
Grace Lee, executive director of National Park Trust added, “we are very grateful to the National Park Foundation for identifying the park sites that needed our education staff’s expertise and for funding the important supplemental materials for students to bring these lessons to life. This year, teachers looked to us to provide engaging educational activities by bringing parks and nature to kids as they practiced social distancing at home. In addition, they have shared that this program is something that they’d like to continue to take advantage of even after the pandemic since it brings parks near and far to their students.”
ABOUT NATIONAL PARK TRUST
National Park Trust is a non-profit dedicated to the protection of our national parks. The Park Trust preserves parks today and creates park stewards for tomorrow by acquiring the missing pieces of our national parks and building a pipeline of future caretakers of our public lands and waters by getting kids to parks. Since 1983, the Park Trust has completed 73 land projects in 31 states, one U.S. Territory, and Washington, D.C. Our national Buddy Bison Programs and Kids to Parks Day support 300 Title I schools annually in under-served communities. Find out more at parktrust.org.
ABOUT 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.