News Release

Students Benefit from Parks as Classrooms This School Year

Ranger Ted explains how to identify macro-organisms
Ranger Ted explains how to identify macro-organisms

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News Release Date: March 3, 2020

Contact: Bill Fischer, 570-340-5339

SCRANTON, Pa. – Since 2011, the National Park Foundation (NPF) has engaged more than one million students in educational programs connecting them with national parks across the country, including at Steamtown National Historic Site (NHS) in Scranton PA.

For the past five years, NPF has graciously provided Steamtown NHS with funding through its Open OutDoors for Kids transportation grant program to help bring more than four thousand fourth-grade students to the park to participate in Railroads, Rivers & You! (RRY!), a STEM-focused, PA state curriculum-based education program. During RRY! students learn about the area’s rich railroading and coal mining heritage. Then, taking on the role of railroad maintenance workers, the students collaborate in teams using hands-on measuring and math skills to problem solve mock track gauge issues to keep the trains rolling. After enjoying a lunch break, the students then go to the nearby Lackawanna River. Having learned how railroads and heavy industry polluted area waterways in the past, students become junior citizen scientists. Using river water samples, they test for ph and use viewing scopes to identify macro-organisms in order to deduct the river’s health. In addition to the NPF, Steamtown NHS has enjoyed the support of the Lackawanna Heritage Valley Authority and the Lackawanna River Conservation Association, along with many park volunteers, in presenting RRY! to area students.

One enthusiastic fourth grader’s endorsement for RRY!, among many, declares, “Dear Park Ranger Ted,  Thank you for the wonderful experience.  It was very fun to learn about the trains.  I showed my Dad about the program and he loved it.  Thank you for making me want to be a wildlife biologist even more for when I grow up.  I LOVE NATURE!!!  From Emily.  This demonstrates that even an industrial history park like Steamtown NHS can successfully incorporate natural resource education within a cultural resource program.

Over the past nine years, more than one million students, many of whom are from underserved communities, have directly benefited from engaging with parks as classrooms. Together with its donors and partners, NPF has invested $13.9 million since 2011 toward fostering the next generation of park champions. The organization’s goal is to connect 250,000 kids and adults to parks throughout 2020 via school field trips, service corps, volunteer efforts, and fellowships, thereby growing the community of people who benefit from and care about these treasured places.

“National parks are vibrant living laboratories that enrich learning for students of all ages,” said National Park Foundation President and CEO Will Shafroth. “The National Park Foundation and partners are bridging the gap to make transformational experiences possible for one million students and counting, eliminating barriers to access and maximizing educational benefits.”

As the official nonprofit partner of the National Park Service, NPF raises support from generous individuals and dedicated partners for diverse in-park educational experiences that connect kids, high-schoolers, and students of all ages to their local parks and inspires the next generation of park champions. From local philanthropic organizations and friends groups to local schools and community-based organizations, partners are critical to this effort.

While national parks are found throughout the United States, several factors affect students’ abilities to access them. A lack of transportation options and financial means, working parents who are unable to provide transportation, and geographic proximity are all potential challenges to park visitation for young people.
One NE PA fourth-grade teacher insists, “Since we are in an economically disadvantaged school and district overall, the fact that the program comes free of charge, is vital to our participation. Without that, we wouldn't be able to experience it. In addition, the topics presented are directly related to our Pennsylvania Academic Standards… . This program has given our students a hands on experience that frankly our texts books cannot.”

The National Park Foundation is committed to making educational experiences in parks more accessible for all people, with a specific focus on underserved populations and communities of color, in both rural and urban settings across the country. NPF-supported programs across the country engage students and their teachers in educational field trips, provide young adults and veterans employment opportunities that help restore public lands, connect people of all ages with the joyful experiences of giving back through volunteer events, and offer career development opportunities for teachers and emerging scholars. All of these efforts are part of NPF’s broader work to connect people to and protect national parks.

NPF’s Open OutDoors for Kids program connects elementary school-aged youth to national parks through meaningful, educational, and engaging field trips. The majority of funding for this program supports fourth grade students at Title I schools with high percentages of students from low-income families that receive financial assistance through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to help ensure they have the resources to meet academic standards. Nationally, school districts in high-poverty communities have the highest total Title I allocations per eligible student. Schools in these communities are less likely to have the resources to engage national parks and outdoor education into student curriculum.

Additionally, Open OutDoors for Kids complements the federal Every Kid Outdoors initiative focusing on 10-year-old students, the age of most fourth graders. Research indicates that children of that age are at a unique developmental stage in their learning where they begin to understand how the world around them works in more concrete ways and they are more receptive to engaging with nature and the environment. View the list of the National Park Foundation Open OutDoors for Kids grantee projects for the 2019-2020 school year.

Thanks to private philanthropy, including support for Open OutDoors for Kids from Find Your Park/Encuentra Tu Parque premier partner Union Pacific Railroad and partners such as the 3M Open Fund, Apple, Columbia Sportswear, OARS, Parks Project, Sierra, Niantic, and Winnebago Industries Foundation, the National Park Foundation is investing $2.5 million in educational programs across the country during the 2019-2020 school year. Select projects were matched with federal funds as part of the Centennial Challenge program.

Individuals, foundations, and companies can bolster programs like this by supporting NPF’s efforts to engage more students with national parks as classrooms. Visit the NPF website to learn more.


The National Park Foundation is the official charity of America’s national parks and nonprofit partner to the National Park Service. Chartered by Congress in 1967, the National Park Foundation raises private funds to help protect more than 84 million acres of national parks through critical conservation and preservation efforts and connect all Americans with their incomparable natural landscapes, vibrant culture, and rich history. Find out more and become a part of the national park community at


Steamtown NHS was established to preserve, interpret, and protect the history of steam railroading in America including the historic Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad yard, collections, technical knowledge, and skills that further public understanding of the impact of steam railroading on U.S. industry, commerce, and society.

Located in downtown Scranton, Pa., Steamtown NHS is open daily from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. (Extended park hours, 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., begin March 29, 2020) From I-81 follow exit 185 (Central Scranton Expressway); then follow the brown and white signs to the park entrance at Lackawanna Avenue and Cliff Street (GPS: N 41.41, W 75.67). General park information is available by phoning (570) 340-5206 during regular business hours, or by visiting the park website anytime.

About the National Park Service. More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America's 419 national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities. Visit us at, on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube


Last updated: April 30, 2020

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