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Contact: Sue Walter, 520-387-6849 x7301
Ajo, Arizona –In the past six months Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument has reached over 500 local elementary students with opportunities to be active, spend time with friends and family, and utilize the Monument as a living classroom to build academic and life skills. This emphasis on school programs and youth is part of the National Park Service's Centennial taking place throughout this year. These programs will continue into the future.
This spring, Education Ranger, Anna Arsic, visited seven 4th grade classrooms - one in Ajo, as well as four districts of the Tohono O'odham Nation (Gu Vo, San Simon, Santa Rosa, and Sells). Ranger Arsic presented curriculum-based educational programs on Sonoran Desert animal adaptations. As part of the classroom program she helped over 150 students acquire their free Every Kid in a Park (EKIP) Initiative 4th grade passes to all federally managed land. In the following weeks, all seven classrooms were able to visit Organ Pipe Cactus for class field trips utilizing a grant sponsored by the National Park Foundation to help cover the costs of transportation.
Field trips began with a guided hike along the Desert View Trail, allowing students to experience the Sonoran Desert ecosystem firsthand. Students then participated in environmental education activities led by Ranger Arsic, highlighting plant and animal adaptations and consistent with Arizona Core Curriculum Guidelines. "The students and I both learned from each other. I shared information on saguaro cactus adaptations, and the students taught me the O'odham words for saguaro fruit (bahidaj) and the tool used for harvesting (kukuipad). We had a lot of fun acting out the seasonal changes of a saguaro!" said Ranger Arsic. Local volunteer Katey Gormley presented educational activities highlighting the importance and adaptations of bats. The classes explored the Kris Eggle Visitor Center interactive exhibits, watched the park film, and worked on their Junior Ranger Booklets to enrich their knowledge and experience of this unique ecosystem. All participants proudly earned Junior Ranger badges and patches to take home. Before leaving the Visitor Center, one student left a post-it note on a "Find Your Park" interactive display reading, "This is the best place ever." Another student commented, "I wish we could spend the night here"; perhaps her family will be attending the Monument's next Family Camp Out Event.
Organ Pipe Cactus is a remote park and due to its distance from populated areas, has always struggled to connect with even the closest schools. The EKIP transportation grant allowed the monument to fund transportation for these schools. Another obstacle was the task of finding a charter bus to transport the school groups to and from the park. Education Ranger Arsic contacted Ajo Unified School District (AUSD) District Office &Superintendent's Secretary, Angelina Valenzuela, to coordinate the rental and scheduling of their 40 passenger school bus to be driven by a credentialed school bus driver. After consideration, approval, and careful planning an arrangement was made for an AUSD bus to transport a total of 80 students back and forth from the Indian Oasis School Intermediate Campus in Sells to Organ Pipe Cactus on two separate field trips covering nearly 627 miles. Organ Pipe Cactus would not have been able to bring these students to the Monument without the partnership and cooperation of AUSD.
Earlier this winter, in celebration of the NPS Centennial and as a part of EKIP, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument hosted two successful Family Fun Camp Out Events for families from the local community. The Monument also provided outreach and children's environmental education activities at a number of local Authentically Ajo Farmers Market in the town of Ajo.
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument will continue the Every Kid in a Park program each year with the then current group of fourth graders for as long as the program continues. The idea of the EKIP program is after 12 years, every school-age child will have had an opportunity to visit their public lands for free, inspiring the next generation to be stewards of our nation's shared natural and cultural heritage. It will allow us to offer more to our local schools and help hundreds of students begin building a lifelong relationship with Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and other federal lands.