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.
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.
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