Every Kid In a Park: Education, National Parks, and 4th Graders

Meghan Eaton ’18 – Inside Politics Program

On Thursday February 19th, in Chicago, President Obama launched his “Every Kid In a Park” initiative. This initiative gives all fourth graders and their families – starting this coming fall – free admission for the year to all National Parks. The initiative hopes to encourage more kids to go outside and explore our National Park system. According to the white house website “…more than 80 percent of American families live in urban areas, and many lack easy access to safe outdoor spaces.” [2] At the same time, kids are spending more time than ever in front of screens instead of outside. National Parks act as living classrooms that inspire the next generation to explore what nature has to offer.

The initiative makes it easier for schools and families to plan trips to the National Parks. By distributing information and resources to teachers and families, it will make it simpler for them to become connected with local programs. A part of the initiative will provide transportation support to schools and children, who most need the help, so that all students can experience the National Parks. The administration will be re-launching the Ticket to Ride program, which awards transportation grants for kids to visit parks and other public lands. Educational materials for public access will also be provided along with the initiative. The National Park Service re-launched its website with over a 1,000 materials for the use of K-12 teachers. These materials include lesson plans, field trip guides, and science labs. [1]

On Thursday, President Obama also dedicated three historic landmarks in the United States as National Monuments. The Pullman National Monument in Illinois was the first to be dedicated. This monument highlights America’s first industrial town, which tells important stories about the industrial revolution, opportunity and discrimination, and the rise of labor unions. The second monument dedicated was Honouliuli National Monument in Hawaii. This site tells the story of where Japanese American citizens, immigrants, and prisoners of war were held captive during World War II. It tells the story of interment camps and the loss of civil rights during times of conflict. The last monument dedicated was Browns Canyon National Monument in Colorado. This monument can be found in Colorado’s upper Arkansas River Valley in Chaffee County. It features granite cliffs, colorful rock, and mountain vistas that are home to diverse plant and wildlife. [2]

President Obama requested twenty million dollars of funding in the 2016 Budget in order to support this initiative and other youth education programs. Overall the public has shown a positive reaction to this initiative, although it comes with a hefty price tag. As fourth grade students and families use their passes this fall, they will develop a connection and visit more parks in the future, which will increase revenue for the park system in the long run. Student will also be able to make connections between what they are learning in the classroom with the field trips and visits they are taking to the National Parks. Applying their knowledge from the classroom in a real world setting will help the students think critically. Children will hopefully take advantage of this opportunity, and because of it, spend more time outside. The childhood obesity rate in America for children between the ages of 6-11 is 18%. [3] I believe creating an initiative that not only benefits children’s education, but also encourages physical activity is very important. I believe our government should heavily focus on more programs that will build our education system. Every Kid In a Park is terrific initiative, that helps build America’s education system and helps encourage students to become life learners.