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Students to Stewards - Adopt the Class of 2016

Description: "Adopt the Class of 2016" engages hundreds of local school children who will graduate from high school the same year the National Park Service turns 100. Students are invited with their teachers to come to the Park each successive year through their graduation year for successive hands-on lessons and experiences in history, science and recreation. The experiences they have will then be available to the Class of 2017, 2018 and beyond.

The "Adopt the Class of 2016" program began in 2007, when Astoria fifth grade teachers asked if their students could help the Park restore a wetland. Previously, Park visitation from Astoria teachers and students consisted mostly of 4th grade field trips to participate in "Class of Discovery," an all-day, hands-on program featuring flint and steel fire starting, quill pen writing and candle making. It was rare that we would see our local students again.

Based on the request from Astoria fifth grade teachers, we jumped at the chance to serve the students again, and to reconnect with the school beyond 4th grade. Planning with the teachers, I realized we could provide an "outdoor" classroom to illustrate water quality concepts, a topic the classes were studying. The Park's topography also demonstrates a very visual watershed model. We planned an in-class orientation, park visit, and follow up visit to a nearby state park with a canoeing trip as a water quality and watershed unit. The Lower Columbia River Estuary partnership is partnering with us to provide canoe instruction.

To date, almost 200 fifth grade students (the Class of 2016) have completed the watershed unit. Specifically, the healthy water and watersheds unit includes basic water testing parameters for temperature, pH, turbidity, DO and a macro invertebrate search, as students determine for themselves "how healthy is this water and the watershed?" They also play a movement game, trying to be a raindrop traveling through a watershed. The final canoeing trip is a chance to put all that they have learned into an afternoon on the water. The students are asked to take a "2016 Pledge" to keeping water clean for their graduation, as well as the NPS Centennial.

We will offer the water and watershed unit again in Fall and Spring 2009-10 for the Class of 2017, based upon our staffing ability. To increase the number of schools that can participate, many of the fifth grade classes have also taken advantage of a transportation scholarship fund that we helped to set up with the Lewis & Clark National Park Association. It was seeded with a very generous donation of $25,000 from the family of a longtime NPS volunteer. Since its establishment, other individuals have donated to the transportation fund. The Association administers the fund, which offers up to $200 toward a trip, based on a bus vendor receipt after the field trip has taken place. Schools need to show proof that they are Title 1 and fill out the paperwork. Approximately 10 schools have asked for funding this year through the Association - under $2,000 has been dispersed because some schools have not requested the entire $200.

As the Class of 2016 enters sixth grade, we will engage them through our "Six for Six" hiking program, a 6-mile-long, guided hike on the Park's Fort to Sea Trail. In order to introduce local sixth grade teachers to this program, we have offered it with great success to eight classrooms this Spring. The 5-hour hike requires two park educators working with a group of up to 30 students. We ask that the teacher bring three chaperones, giving the program a one-to-five adult to student ratio.

Students have reported back that they enjoy the various hiking experiences built into "Six for Six," such as the solo hike and trust walk, as well as getting a chance to be outdoors with their classmates. For some local students, this hike has marked the only field trip they have taken this year, due to tight district budgets. As an experiment, we have introduced an audio recording component and trained several student teams for each class to "record" their impressions of the hike, and their classmates' experiences. The first of these audio "sound prints" will be posted on our park website, this summer and put into a downloadable format.

It is anticipated that the hiking unit will be fine-tuned and ready when the Class of 2016 students start hiking in Fall 2009-Spring 2010.

The seventh grade component of the "Adopt the Class of 2016" initiative is in the early planning stages. There is synergy to be had with the upcoming Astoria Bicentennial, which recognizes the prominence of the many cultures and strong trading traditions at the Mouth of the Columbia River. There has been interest from local teachers to have greater understanding and connection with the local tribes. Some possible units might include a study of water travel and canoe culture, and its tie-ins to the local Clatsop-Nehalem and Chinook Indians or a study of the strong trade and commerce culture that has existed in the region for hundreds of years. It is important to engage park staff in planning for this.

Upcoming units:

Eighth graders will help the park study invasive and exotic species.

Freshmen Year 2013: Recreation and camping with state park partners. Washington State Parks celebrates its Centennial in 2013.

Sophomore Year 2014: Service learning.

Junior Year 2015: Career exploration.

Senior Year 2016: Senior projects.

Geographic area covered: Northern Oregon Coast and Southwestern Washington Coast, as well as areas within Lewis and Clark National Historical Park boundaries.

List of partners and relationships:

Lewis & Clark National Park Association
Oregon State Parks
Washington State Parks
Clatsop Community College
Astoria School District
Warrenton School District
Seaside School District
Knappa School District
Oregon State University/Clatsop County Extension Office
Lower Columbia River Estuary Partnership
Columbia River Estuary Study Partnership

Accomplishments to date: In addition to the narrative above, there are several other accomplishments to date in this program.

  • Informal assessment "tools" have been worked into the student programs. These short questionnaires have four or five questions to learn what students liked best, least and what was worth "telling their friends about." These have worked well as quick checks on how the program is proceeding.
  • Written or participated in two grant proposals targeting high school students and technology, in anticipation of the 2016 high school units, as well as a way to incorporate technology into general 2016 programming, such as the audio units being tested with the hiking program.
  • Shared the "Adopt the Class of 2016" initiative with other parks and partners during the November 2008 Centennial Conference in Vancouver, Wash.

Key success factors:

  • Seek expertise and support in all Park divisions - NPS co-workers and partners bring myriad skills to their work, plus a passion for their jobs and the Park. "Our best work is done together."
  • Park loves its community and utilizes its volunteer (base) to help staff the education program.
  • The Lewis & Clark National Park Association matched $30,000 in funds for Class of 2016 planning and start-up. The Association supports the Park's traveling trunk and video loan program. The Park also partners with local schools and businesses, the nearby community college and research non-profit.
  • Park experiments - Park tries new approaches that cause us to stretch and to learn.
  • Park tries not to duplicate others' efforts, whether it is a classroom program or another park or informal education source. We reach out to other parks and partners to lend a hand.
  • Park listens to children and teachers - students have said that they want hands-on experiences, chances to learn with their friends and the time to dig into an activity. Teachers have asked the Park to provide students with service learning opportunities, to have our lessons augment what they're teaching and to provide fund learning opportunities.
  • Park assesses, evaluates and adapts - program is being built slowly and carefully so that it is sustainable. Park is closely monitoring how students become stewards through repeated park visits and experiences. Park is responsive to teachers, students and schools.
  • Transportation scholarship funds.


  • Having to launch new programs while maintaining existing educational programs.
  • Gaining widespread support from staff and partners for new initiatives.
  • Working with schools and districts facing shrinking transportation budgets.
  • Carving out enough time to plan for new programs.
  • Bringing new programs and existing programs together as one Education Program; i.e. countering perception that there are NPS and "non" NPS education programs in the Park.
  • Finding funding opportunities that match our work, versus tailoring work to meet funding opportunities. You get burned out chasing funding sources that really don't fit the structure we are setting in place with "Adopt the Class of 2016."

Most important lessons learned to date:

  • The importance of communicating ideas and programs with partners and staffs and seeking input at the ground floor.
  • Seeking input from in-park expertise.
  • Taking time to plan. Then, taking more time to plan!
  • Pilot programs before rolling out to large audiences.
  • Evaluation - formal and informal - is very important. Check in with students, parents and teachers.
  • Be flexible - schools needs and capacities are changing rapidly in this economy.
  • Make sure that lessons and units tie into state and national education standards. Do this work for the teachers and the schools to get better buy-in for field trips.
  • Celebrate successes!
  • Take time to plan out a promotion strategy - how to "place" the new programs in an established brochure; how to promote on the website, and keep the website updated.
  • Take time to consider position descriptions when hiring front line ranger educators. Having people with recreation, interpretation and environmental education/science is very helpful. Make sure that you have what you need in your position description.
  • Have several people interview candidates. Check background references.

What would you do differently next time:

  • Get buy-in earlier from key staff members and partners.
  • Plan more pre- and post- visit activities in advance.
  • Consider more seriously the idea of a "traveling" ranger or off-site presence to help connect students to the Park. We discuss often the pros and cons of focusing on having students come to the Park solely, or seeing them at their schools with a traveling trunk or educational material, to enhance their Park connection.

Suggested resource materials:

  • NPS Interpretive Competencies 370 (I pinched this from an NPS manager who has attended)
  • Project Learning Tree curriculum
  • Understanding by Design, Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe
  • Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom, Thomas Armstrong
  • National Parks and Education Partners: Six Case Studies (edited by Peter S. O'Connell and Elizabeth F. Hoermann)
  • Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv
  • Watersheds: A practical Handbook for Healthy Water, by Clive Dobson and Gregor Gilpin Beck
  • Sharing Nature with Children, Joseph Cornell
  • Place-Based Education, David Sobel
  • Into the Field: A Guide to Locally Focused Teaching by Claire Walker Leslie, John Tallmadge and Tom Wessells
  • Community Connections for Science Education, by William C. Robertson
  • Open-Ended Questioning: A Handbook for Educators, by Robin Lee Harris Freedman
  • Practical Evaluation Guide: Tools for Museums & Other Informal Educational Settings by Judy Diamond.

For more information:

Name: Cathy Peterson
Affiliation: Education Program Coordinator, Lewis and Clark National Historic Park
Phone/Fax: 503-861-4422

Partnership category(ies) (check all that apply)

Fundraising __; Capital Improvement __; Facility Management __; __; Trails __; Design __; Program Delivery _X_; Visitor Services __; Natural Resources Management/Restoration __; Cultural Resources __; Education/Interpretation _X_; Arts __; Information Services __; Transportation __; Mutual Aid/Emergency Services __; Fire Management __; Planning __; Tourism __; Community Relations __;

Other ____________________________

Prepared by: Cathy Peterson, Education Program Coordinator, Lewis and Clark National Historic Park Date posted: 6/3/09
Phone: 503-861-4422

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