By Jesús Sánchez, Education Director
Picture this: It’s Maria’s first time visiting a national park. Last year, she was one of over 3,000 students to come to Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) as part of the Every Kid in a Park initiative.
“We got in our groups and got on the bus—I was so excited!” said Maria. “It was about a 40-minute drive, but sitting with my friends, this was a short drive. Then we went to meet our park ranger. He was really nice, and he told us that we all own this park. That felt really important to me personally.”
Maria, a fourth-grader student, wrote this reflection after her Every Kid in the Park field trip to CVNP.
During the past 2016-2017 school year, Cuyahoga Valley National park was one of nine “focus sites” that received funding from the National Park Foundation to bring northeast Ohio fourth grade students to their national park. The Conservancy’s Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center welcomed all these youth for adventures in the valley.
Thanks to the National Park Foundation’s grant—and the ongoing support of Conservancy members and donors—students like Maria were able to experience CVNP for the very first time, despite living only 40 minutes away. Every Kid in a Park gives children like Maria an opportunity to experience local culture and nature first-hand.
“I didn’t really ever like nature, but after this, I changed my mind,” said Maria.
This is exactly the response and inspiration that Every Kid in Park is meant to instill.
Being chosen as a focus site was a great opportunity to connect young people to their national park. As we continue this program into the next school year, many children will step off the bus and experience the wonder of a national park for the first time in their lives… just like Maria did.
Taking photos of the unique Ledges geology during an Every Kid in a Park day program (Photo: NPS/Ted Toth)
In addition, every fourth-grader participating in the park receives a free Every Kid in a Park pass, which enables free admission to all public lands for the students and their families for a full year. This program began in 2016 as part of the Centennial celebration of the National Park Service.
Here in CVNP, programs took place at various sites within the park, from the trails to the Canal Exploration Center and beyond. Schools even received transportation reimbursement for travel to the park, so it was a completely free field trip for schools and their fourth-grade students!
Students show off their new Every Kid in a Park passes! (Photo: NPS/Ted Toth)
To participate, schools could select from a variety of the EDUCATION CENTER’s single day programs. Programs like “Low Bridge, Everybody Down!” provided a glimpse into the history of CVNP’s canal system through a live demonstration at Lock 38 and a scavenger hunt through the Canal Exploration Center. “Rockin’ at the Run!” gave students a chance to explore the geological history of CVNP at the Ritchie Ledges—one of CVNP’s most popular and scenic places in the park.
Exploring the towering Ledges during “Rockin’ at the Run”
Both of these programs align with fourth grade science and social study academic standards. Because of this, many teachers requested that their classes partake in both programs. Education Center staff took that feedback and worked with the National Park Service to create a new program that combines Ohio’s history with hands-on stations that reveal how the state’s landscape and geology influenced its human inhabitants. Now, “Changing Lands and Human Hands” exists as a regularly offered program through the Education Center.
However, Every Kid in a Park isn’t just about delivering the program itself. One of our major focuses at the Education Center this past year was reaching out to new schools in northeast Ohio and building new relationships to serve more youth. We also worked to identify “champions” within those schools to promote the opportunity and importance of place-based learning in Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
We also made sure that we engaged with each participating class multiple times, including through pre- and post-visit activities conducted by NPS and Education Center staff. If it was logistically too difficult for staff to meet students in person, we offered remote Skype sessions to introduce the students to what they would be experiencing prior to their field trip.
Students exploring the park during a day program this spring
As we prepare for the 2017-2018 school year and another year of Every Kid in a Park, we’re working on processing our lessons learned, identifying new ideas, and forming new strategies to make the program even more meaningful for fourth graders. We look forward to welcoming many schools back, and meeting new ones, next year!
If you know any students or educators who would want to join us for a unique adventure in CVNP, we’d love to hear from you. Click here to learn more about our Every Kid in Park programs online, or you can contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or (330) 657-2796 ext. 160.