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Sixty-five fourth graders from Donald Stalker Elementary School of Blackfoot, Idaho got a firsthand and fun-filled introduction to Grand Teton National Park on May 20-22 thanks to the generous support of Grand Teton Lodge Company, an authorized park concessioner. The school children and their parents spent two days and two nights learning about nature and wildlife, while being treated to a full lodging experience at Jackson Lake Lodge, one of the park's principal concession facilities.
This innovative and novel program was conceived by Grand Teton Lodge Company Vice President and General Manager Alex Klein as a creative way to support the National Park Service "Every Kid in a Park" initiative. The program also acknowledges and highlights the 2016 NPS centennial celebration that officially launched in April of this year.
The Donald Stalker Elementary School was selected for a variety of reasons, including the school's size, its close proximity to Grand Teton National Park, and its Title 1 designation. According to the U.S. Department of Education, Title 1 is the nation's oldest and largest federally funded program. It provides supplemental funding to local school districts to meet the needs of at-risk and low-income students, and seeks to bridge the gap between low-income students and other students across the nation's educational system.
"We were excited to be the first to partner with Grand Teton National Park to kick-off the 'Every Kid in a Park' program," said Alex Klein, vice president and general manager of Grand Teton Lodge Company. "Engaging our nation's youth in our national parks is an initiative that our company is truly passionate about. Our primary goal was to give the fourth graders an opportunity to explore, learn and play within their neighboring national park, and also provide them with lasting memories that will tie them closer to our parks for the rest of their lives. More than anything, we were delighted to have the students connect with nature and each other in our picturesque playground."
The students kicked off their national park experience with a catered pizza and pasta dinner provided by the Grand Teton Lodge Company, and an evening ranger-led program. The following day, students hiked with a park ranger to learn about the natural world, toured the American Indian museum at Colter Bay Visitor Center to understand the park's cultural significance to local tribes, and took a scenic boat cruise on Jackson Lake to experience the park's world renowned scenic beauty. Grand Teton Lodge Company's Green Team capped off the day's events with games and activities with an emphasis on sustainability practices.
Grand Teton National Park Superintendent David Vela put the "icing on the cake" during their final evening when he led the fourth graders in a Junior Ranger pledge before presenting each student with their official Junior Ranger badge. Proud parents snapped photos of their children with Superintendent Vela, and many expressed their sincere appreciation for this educational and enriching opportunity. After the swearing-in ceremony concluded, the students were treated to a hot dog and hamburger dinner with all the trimmings.
For many of the students, it was both their first time to visit Grand Teton National Park and their first time to stay in a hotel. One youngster told Superintendent Vela that she "felt like a queen" getting to spend a night in a fine motel room and dine at a cloth covered table with cloth napkins.
Both Grand Teton staff and Lodge Company employees hope the novel experience encourages these students to learn more about their American heritage as embodied in their national parks. It certainly provided memories that may last their lifetime.
Go to https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/02/19/let-s-get-every-kid-park for additional information about the National Park Service "Every Kid in a Park" program.