Friday, Oct 15, 2010
On a bright autumn day in September, elementary school students spilled out of their school bus and onto the deck area surrounding the Timpanogos Cave National Monument Visitor Center. Met by Interpretive Ranger BJ Cluff, they walked along the Canyon Nature Trail, following the American Fork River downstream.
They talked about habitats and the life cycle of a forest, learning that even in the mountains, parts of different communities work together to become part of one big ecosystem. For some of these students, it was their first time to the mountains, for others it was their first time in a national park, and it was just one of a series of field trips their school class was able to go on as they participated in the Kids in Nature Program.
Concerned with the lack of representation from underfunded Title 1 schools in the Timpanogos Cave Community, as well as, the lack of opportunity for many of these children to spend time in nature, Superintendent Denis Davis encouraged his staff to apply for the “America’s Best Idea” grant through the National Park Foundation.
Chief Ranger Mike Gosse contacted the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, Utah State Parks, Thanksgiving Point Children’s Discovery Gardens, Hutchings Museum, and Sundance Resort to create a diverse experience for the students, and wrote the grant to cover the cost of transporting students from Title 1 schools in Utah and Salt Lake counties to the various partners. The goal – to bring primarily minority students from poor income areas out to spend time in nature.
Because just one fieldtrip may not provide the kind of connections to nature that positively influence young lives, a series of fieldtrips to each partner was scheduled so students could have greater opportunity to make connections to nature. Partners waived their fees and provided a program that allowed these students to come and spend a few hours out in natural settings: places like wetlands, mountains, forests, lakes, and caves.
The Title 1 schools participating in this program have a higher population of minority students, with many of these students being the first generation in their family to speak English. These natural areas were a new and exciting adventure for these young learners. As one principal from a participating school commented, “Without this program, these students would never have the opportunity to see and do the things they are now doing.” To illustrate that point, this particular school group was one where more than half of the children had never even been on an outdoor hike before they came to Timpanogos Cave.
The Kids in Nature Partnership established by Timpanogos Cave National Monument provided over 400 students from five different elementary schools the opportunity to see beautiful scenery, go on hikes, look at ecosystems, view wildlife, and connect with their natural environment. They observed a turkey vulture, red-tailed hawk, golden mantle squirrels, gopher snakes, mule deer, and peregrine falcons. Teachers reported greater enthusiasm for learning, greater understanding of classroom concepts, and increased attendance. Partners used concepts from the Utah educational core curriculum during the fieldtrips, making it a valuable teaching process for the educator, as well as an exciting new experience in nature for the student.