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Rangers Against Drugs

Description: Prince William Forest Park is currently in its eighth year of a partnership with Graham Park Middle School in Triangle, Virginia. Rangers Against Drugs (RAD) is a unique program that began in 1992 and enhances park partnerships with local schools through community outreach. The program began in response to federal drug initiatives. Through RAD, the NPS is able to reach 5th and 6th graders that may be unaware of the National Park Service and its resources. This outreach partnership focuses on the National Park Service mission, life-skills education, gateway drug awareness and role modeling by NPS Rangers.

Through the RAD program, students are provided tools to assist them in learning about the NPS system, NPS resources and how to be stewards of our national resources. What makes RAD unique is that the students spend seven hours with a Ranger in a classroom setting over an eight week period. It is unique among NPS programs that students have this much access to an NPS Ranger.

The benefits of RAD reach far beyond the classroom. Students learn to appreciate themselves, their school and their community. The hope is that after completing the program students will be able to resist becoming victims of substance abuse, thereby reducing crime, vandalism and social disorder. It is also hoped that after the program, students will become stewards of our National Parks.

Prince William County Schools allow for site-based school management. The school principal accommodates such programs as RAD as long as other academic requirements are met. Through RAD, the teachers and Rangers are able to cover topics such as geography, science, history, thinking skills, and language arts. Rangers are often able to springboard off classroom lessons into RAD topics.

RAD was originally funded at Prince William Forest Park from special drug funding. For the last several years, park management has funded the program out of park base funding. Graham Park Middle School was chosen to participate in the program because of its proximity of the park and many of the students live adjacent to or near the park. Park staff has been unable to offer the program to other schools due to funding and staff time constraints.

Geographic area covered: Prince William Forest Park, located in Prince William County, Virginia, is the largest protected natural area in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region at over 15,000 acres. Graham Park Middle School, located in Triangle, Virginia, is part of the Prince William County Public School system.

List of partners and relationships: Graham Park Middle School and the National Park Service, Friends of Prince William Forest Park.

Accomplishments to date: In its first year, Rangers taught 9 sixth grade classes, or approximately 300 students. The program has grown substantially since then. For the FY03/04 school year, Rangers will have taught a total of 17 classes and over 450 students.

Key success factors:

  1. The ability of National Park Service Rangers to teach important life skills to the students, who in turn develop meaningful social relationships and develop positive attitudes towards themselves, others and National Park Service Rangers. Self-esteem is stressed through the program and students are shown and told that they are special.
  2. A program that encourages strong academics and an appreciation for our National Parks. For many students, this is their first exposure to the National Parks and National Park Service Rangers.
  3. A flexible program that allows Rangers to go into detail about Prince William Forest Park and the National Park Service. The result is a Parks as Classroom road show.
  4. The unique and successful partnership between Prince William Forest Park and Graham Park Middle School. This positive partnership is evident through the continued cooperation and support from the school principal, administrators, teachers and parents.
  5. Park Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent support. Their support has been demonstrated through recognition of the program and by providing financial support for the program.
  6. School staff support. RAD is an optional program, but the staff at the school believes it so beneficial that each year they request the program and it is now a requirement for all sixth grade classes. The school's site-based management allows the RAD program to be accommodated into the curriculum. Rangers serve, in a sense, as guest teachers at the request of the school.
  7. The quality of instruction provided by the Rangers. The enthusiasm and dedication Rangers provide comes through as caring and genuine to the students and teachers. Interdivisional support has made the program a success too. Unlike D.A.R.E. which requires instruction by a Law Enforcement Ranger, RAD may be instructed by any uniformed staff member that expresses interest. This eases the burden of one division and allows for the involvement of a diverse staff.

Frustrations: The success of the program, the increasing size of the student body, and the shrinking NPS budget. RAD has been overwhelmingly well received at Graham Park Middle School, and now every 6th grade class participates in the program. As the county grows and the student body increases, there is increasing need at the school for additional staff time and funding for RAD. Because of this, park staff has not been able to expand to other middle schools that have expressed interest in the program.

FY04 budget shortfalls prevented the park from financially supporting the program this year. The park Friends group has been enlisted as a partner to seek donations from the private sector for $4,000 to provide the t-shirts, folders and incentive awards for the program. Staff costs are borne by the respective division in the park. The t-shirts and incentive awards provide tangible reminders about the program for the students. Not being able to provide these items this year has been met with noticeable disappointment from the students and some parents.

Staffing 16 classes places a burden on staff schedules for the park. It can be frustrating scheduling staff time so that classes aren't missed or lesson plans shortened.

Most important lessons learned to date:

  1. How much the school supports and needs the RAD program.
  2. We have learned how little, and how much the students know about "gateway" drugs and about National Parks. The positive comments expressed by students in their essays and/or through program evaluations is also personally rewarding. It is awesome to know how you may have influenced a young life.

What would you do differently next time: We would probably attempt to form other partnerships to secure programmatic funding for the t-shirts and incentive awards. Had the budget shortfalls been seen ahead of time, ground work for raising funds could have begun earlier.

Suggested resource materials: To support the program, there exists a wealth of information through the internet to support the lessons taught, especially in the drug awareness area.

For more information:

Name: George Liffert
Affiliation: Chief, Resource and Visitor Protection, Prince William Forest Park
Phone/Fax: (703) 221-5845

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Prepared by: George Liffert Date posted: 3/18/04
Phone: 703-221-5845

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