“Involving teachers and community leaders at the very beginning helped the project develop in a direction that was more meaningful to the community. I also learned a lot by going into the community more and listening. Our relationship with the local schools is stronger now, and local teachers attended our annual teachers’ institute for the first time.”
- Sheila Cooke-Kayser, Education Specialist
Salem Maritime and Saugus Iron Works National Historic Sites
Enhancing Educational Programs through Civic Engagement
Upon becoming Director of the National Park Service in 2009, Jon Jarvis reaffirmed the central importance of education to the agency’s mission, stating that “parks truly are classrooms that help people understand and appreciate the complexities of the natural world and of the historic events that have shaped it and our lives.” Also in 2009, following a year of examining the work of national parks today, the National Parks Second Century Commission declared the national parks to be an educational resource of the highest magnitude, saying that “national parks play an important role in building civil society, a role that grows more important as our country becomes more diverse.”
Using parks as classrooms provides educators and the NPS with the opportunity to help learners of all ages understand and appreciate the importance of natural and cultural resources, the nation’s history, and the many values that underlie our democracy. Local communities offer similar opportunities for place-based and civic learning. Through civic engagement, parks and communities can work together to enhance the development of citizenship skills and an understanding of place among local populations that will serve the future stewardship of resources on both sides of park boundaries.
Integrating civic engagement into education programming means bringing parks, communities, and organizations together as partners at the beginning of the program design or development process. This kind of collaborative program development can leverage the strengths of each partner and ensure mutual benefit. Whether in a formal or informal educational setting, civic engagement enhances community-park relationships and helps to ensure that programs and materials are relevant to the needs and objectives of parks and their community partners. Over time, the ongoing interactions among all partners provides a deeper sense of ownership and investment both in the partner relationships and in using parks as teaching resources.
Research has shown that K-12 learning models which incorporate place-based teaching strategies, and include service learning, civic education, and conflict resolution, can bond students to parks and their communities and teach civic duty in new and exciting ways. Building on successful K-12 programs, some national parks and their community partners are developing education programs for young adults that provide leadership training and information about career opportunities with the National Park Service.
We encourage you to learn more about the practice of civic engagement by reviewing the manual from the NPS Conservation Study Institute, Stronger Together: A Manual on the Principles and Practices of Civic Engagement. (pdf)
Learning to Make Choices for the Future: Connecting Public Lands, Schools, and Communities through Place-based Learning and Civic Engagement is a teaching resource intended to build a culture of active learning and engagement in the ongoing conservation, care, and enjoyment of public lands of all kinds. (pdf)
The Promise of Place website (www.promiseofplace.org) provides curriculum and planning tools, stories from the field, networking opportunities, and much more. This website is a collaboration of the NPS Conservation Study Institute, Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, and Shelburne Farms National Historic Landmark.
A Forest for Every Classroom is a place-based, resource-and-civic-learning model that began as a pilot project in high schools in the state of Vermont. The model is now being shared and adapted in parks and communities across the country.
A Trail to Every Classroom is an adaptation of the Forest for Every Classroom model that is being applied in communities along the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.
"The Benefits of Place-based Education: A Report from the Place-based Education Evaluation Collaboration (Second Edition)" summarizes the learning from seven place-based education programs (including A Forest for Every Classroom and A Trail to Every Classroom).
The NPS Teacher-Ranger-Teacher program provides classroom teachers with an opportunity to become a summer park ranger and use their experience in the school year that follows to bring the park into the classroom.
The Teaching with Historic Places website contains products and activities to help teachers bring historic places into the classroom, using properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The site includes sections on service learning and teaching teachers the power of place
The New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park Partner Education Plan was developed jointly by the park and six local educational partners through a civic engagement process designed to leverage the strengths of each. (pdf)
The Resources section of this website provides additional civic engagement materials. Also, the Case Studies webpages provide real-life stories of civic engagement efforts between communities and parks around the country.
For any additional need, please Contact Us.
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