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Tips on Connecting with Parks

Tapping expert opinions, creating work that has a community impact, and gaining insights from local businesses; it is these local and community connections that really make classroom projects and units connect to the real world.

While the best way to make these kinds of connections between your learners and public lands is by visiting the parks in monuments you base your projects around, this isn’t always a possibility. So, if you can’t bring your kids to the park, the next best thing is to bring the parks to you.

But as many educators know this is a lot easier said than done. While large parks, such as Yosemite and Grand Canyon, have extensive education offerings, they often book quickly and are only limited to single engagements, and that's if you can get them.

Knowing that collaboration and connecting to real places through real people is important, here are some tips and suggestions for finding and facilitating, authentic connections between students and their parks

1) The Park Itself - You should always begin your inquiries by trying to connect to the ranger dedicated to education or interpretation. Generally, they are the ones that decide how educational programming is designed and how to allocate staff resources to it. Sometimes parks are willing to send rangers to local schools or ship traveling trunks of artifacts and resources to interested teachers, so be sure to ask.

2) Start Small - You may be tempted to try and go all-in with connections to flagship parks such as Arches, Glacier, or the Everglade, but this is often everybody else inclination, and the parks find themselves overwhelmed by requests for programs. For this reason, it may be a better idea to try checking in with smaller, lesser-known park units as they have fewer demands put upon their time. If you truly have your heart set on helping students understand the forces behind the Grand Canyon and its formation, try reaching out to nearby parks and monuments with similar characteristics such as Grand Canyon Parashant, Grand Staircase Escalante, Lake Mead, or other places that interpret many of the same geological forces that formed the Grand Canyon.

3) Educational Partners - Parks like the Great Smoky Mountains, Acadia, and Yosemite have in-park, educational institutes that handle the majority of the educational programming that goes on in the parks. Sometimes these programs include teacher professional development as well, such as in the case of the Schoodic Institute or the Tremont Institute, so be sure to inquire about these opportunities at the same time you book programs for your students.

4) Friends Of Groups - Most national parks have an official nonprofit, like a "friends of"

group or conservancy that handles the management of raising additional funds, volunteer events, and sometimes even educational programming. In some cases, parks have completely offloaded their educational responsibilities to these volunteer groups, especially since park rangers generally have so many other responsibilities. If you can’t connect with a ranger, this might be the next best thing.

5) Academia - National parks are living laboratories for the study of the sciences as well as history and other related disciplines. Often scientific studies or archaeological work is handed over to nearby universities and led by professors or grad students. Sometimes, you can even get these learned individuals to volunteer some of their time to help your students better understand the scientific or historical concepts underpinning their work.


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