National Parks Service grants bring park experience into classrooms

Thanks to the announcement of a new grant program for teachers, I am turning my attention to the National Parks Service (NPS) for this month’s column.

NPS recently announced its Teacher to Ranger to Teacher (TRT) grant program for 2007. The program is currently open to public school teachers in Colorado, Texas, and Arizona, though NPS hopes to open up the program to other states in the future. According to the program’s web site, NPS strives to have all Americans connect to their natural heritage through national parks. Unfortunately, the organization says, not every American has the opportunity to visit national parks. The TRT program allows school teachers to bring the national parks right into the classroom for students to “experience.”

Here’s how it works. Teachers who are selected to participate spend the summer working as a park ranger, and in many cases, they actually live in a national park. They can perform a variety of activities, including developing and presenting interpretive programs, staffing visitor centers, developing curriculum-based materials for the park, or taking on special projects. Here’s a list of possible activities for some of this year’s participating parks:

“Developing and presenting programs for children, which might include water-based activities;

“Conducting Junior Ranger programs for families;

“Providing information for visitors to the Navajo Bridge Interpretive Center in Arizona;

“Designing lesson plans for the Chazimal National Memorial in Texas;

“Evaluating educational materials focused on the Palo Alto Battlefield in Texas; and

“Assisting with the distance-education program at Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah.

After spending the summer as a park ranger, teachers are expected to return to their classrooms and share their experience with their students. Ideally, teachers will incorporate their experience directly through the use of lesson plans. During National Park Week in April, teachers are asked to wear their park ranger uniforms to school and engage other teachers and students in activities related to the national parks.

Visit the TRT web site for application information and the contact names and telephone numbers for the specific parks. When TRT teachers return to their classrooms next fall, they might want to check out the resources available from Questar and Arizona Highways to augment their lesson plans about their summer experience. Questar has a video about the national parks, and Arizona Highways has videos that focus on parks in Arizona.

NPS has several other grant programs that are not specifically targeted to K-12 schools. However, after reading about some of these grants, I believe that K-12 schools could partner with an applicant organization such as a museum, nonprofit organization, or institution of higher education. Programs that might be applicable include:

“American Battlefield Protection Grants are given to governments, nonprofit organizations, and educational institutions in support of the preservation of America’s historic battlefields.

“Preserve America Grants are given to designated Preserve America communities to support heritage tourism, education, and historic education planning.

“Tribal Heritage Grants are given to American Indian tribes and Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian organizations for cultural and historic preservation projects.

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