NEW YORK BILL CONNECTS CHILDREN WITH OUTDOORS

by Suparna Dutta, Sierra Club Outdoors intern

New York joins the growing roster of states advancing strategies to connect children and youth with the outdoors. With a unanimous vote (63-0) lawmakers from both sides of the aisle just passed legislation to address the growing divide between children and the outdoors.

State Assembly Bill A735 was just signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo, and directs the state commissioners of health and environmental conservation to study and develop a long term strategy to promote outdoor environmental education and recreation with a focus on outdoor play and learning opportunities, for kids in New York.

The bill was introduced in response to a growing body of research revealing that children and youth are increasingly spending time indoors. On average, the American child spends between four to seven minutes a day in unstructured outdoor play and recreation, while exposure to daily screen-time exceeds seven hours for adolescents. Bill authors point to a correlation between increasing childhood obesity rates and the decline in outdoor recreation, and acknowledge access to open space as vital for everyone, and “particularly valuable to children growing up in “urban hardscapes,” or areas where access to nature is limited.” The strategy is to be based on an analysis of the health of New York’s youth, including childhood obesity rates and economic trends related to outdoor access. It will also be developed in consultation with state health and advisory bodies. The strategy will help New York develop long-term policies that support environmental stewardship and embrace the health benefits of time in nature to improve the well-being of New York state residents.

Founding member of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids, the Y played a pivotal role in advancing this important policy measure. “The YMCA’s mission stands for youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. We supported this bill from its very inception since it is congruous to the mission of the Alliance,” said Kyle Stewart, Executive Director of the Alliance of New York State YMCAs. “The development of policies that foster stewardship of the environment, an appreciation of the importance of the wise use of natural resources, and recognition of the health benefits of time spent in nature are essential to the residents of New York state.”

The Alliance of New York State YMCAs and New York’s state legislature and found inspiration for this statewide effort in the federal Healthy Kids Outdoors Act, supported by the Outdoors Alliance for Kids. If passed, the legislation would  encourage states to develop multi-year multi-sector strategies to connect children and youth to the outdoors.

The Alliance of New York State YMCAs received the 2017 OAK Leaf Award for raising awareness about the importance of open spaces for children’s health and playing a critical role in the passage of Assembly Bill 735.

This Holiday Season, Help Get iGen Outside

Guest blog post by Patrick Deavy, National Environmental Education Foundation.

This holiday season, a family hike or quick trip to a local park could offer more than a chance to escape the hustle and bustle. A new survey conducted by the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) shows signs that these family outings may also be an important opportunity for parents to talk to their teens about the benefits to more outdoor time. The survey, which examines how teens across the country interact with the outdoors, finds parents, along with teachers, are their top sources for information about the environment. The survey also confirms what many parents and educators may already observe: today’s teens spend little time outdoors.

According to NEEF’s 2017 Teen Benchmark Survey, less than a quarter (23%) of teens frequently spend time with friends outside. Most teens (80%) say they prefer to spend time indoors, even though they recognize that time outdoors makes them healthier (92%) and happier (88%).

NEEF has a vision that by 2022, 300 million Americans will actively use environmental knowledge to ensure the well-being of the earth and its people. Fostering a deeper connection to the outdoors among today’s teens—who are also our future leaders—is a critical piece of this work. Parents and teachers can play an integral role in strengthening that connection, with nine in 10 teens citing them as trusted sources of environmental education.

As we work to inspire people to learn about their relationship to the environment, we hope findings from the NEEF 2017 Teen Benchmark Survey will empower parents, educators, and others who directly influence teens to increase their efforts to engage young people in more activities that get them outside and learning about their environment. Together, we are helping teens find a balance with their use of technology and getting outdoors. By forging a stronger connection between teens and the environment, we can ensure the well-being of the next generation and our world.

This holiday season, help us get #iGenOutside. Visit www.neefusa.org to learn more. Or, to access graphics and other resources to help share survey findings, access the Youth Survey Toolkit here.

Every Kid in a Park Youth Blog Series: Post #8 Tigran

Junior Ranger Tigran with Buddy Bison
Photo Credit: National Park Trust

Every Kid in a Park – Youth Blog Series, Post #8
Interview with Tigran, Buddy Bison Student Ambassador

Meet Tigran, a twelve year old* from California. Tigran serves as a Buddy Bison Student Ambassador through the National Park Trust and is a true advocate for getting other kids in the outdoors! His incredible involvement has earned him the Gold President’s Volunteer Service Award. Tigran shares with us his experience at multiple parks and the importance of getting more kids like him to become park stewards.

What is your name, age, and where are you from?

Tigran: Tigran, age 12, from Ojai, California.

What do you love about the outdoors?

Tigran: The outdoors has amazing beauty and abundant wildlife. The outdoors allows people to relax and explore amazing places that no photo can truly capture.

What is your happiest memory in the outdoors?

Tigran: My happiest outdoor memory is exploring Santa Cruz Island with my family and seeing my very first island fox. I was able to spend some time watching it and I took lots of pictures.

What is your role with National Park Trust?

Tigran: I am the first student Buddy Bison Ambassador. I write for the Buddy Bison’s Buzz newsletter and I post on Instagram and Twitter (@jrrangertigran).

As an ambassador, I encourage children to take Buddy Bison on outdoor adventures with them. I get to help out at special events and hand out Buddy Bison stuffed animals, t-shirts, and Every Kid in a Park passes.  

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Photo Credit: National Park Trust

What do you love the most about being a student Buddy Bison Ambassador?

Tigran: My favorite part about being an ambassador is motivating kids to get outdoors, be active and healthy, and explore our beautiful national parks.

Can you talk about one of your biggest volunteer projects you’ve helped organize or been a part of? Why did you enjoy it so much?

Tigran: My longest volunteer project was the National Park Service Centennial Challenge. The challenge was to volunteer for 201.6 hours in 2016. I started the first of the year by kicking off the Rose Parade in Pasadena. I volunteered many days at the Channel Islands National Park visitor center and worked at  many special events: coastal cleanups, native island plant sales, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area Bird Festival, NPS events at the Museum of Ventura County, Junior Ranger Day, Backbone Trail dedication, Ventura County Fair’s Channel Islands National Park booth, Parade of Lights, Tomatomania, Earth Day,  BioBlitz, Kids to Parks Day, and NEEF Hands on the Land island restoration projects. I also became a youth board member of Channel Islands Park Foundation. I am proud to say that I exceeded the challenge and I was honored to receive the Gold President’s Volunteer Service Award, which is the highest honor the President awards a volunteer (other than the Lifetime Achievement Award—I’m a little young for that!).

I enjoyed the variety of events I was able to assist with but my favorite part was when I was able to combine my roles to help bring children to the park. National Park Trust and Channel Islands Park Foundation partnered to bring 4th graders to Anacapa Island in support of Every Kid in a Park to meet Dr. Sylvia Earle for the celebration of BioBlitz and Kids to Parks Day. They all had a great time and each student received their Every Kid in a Park pass and earned their junior ranger badges.

What is one of your favorite parks you’ve visited and why? Who did you go with?

Tigran: This is a very hard question because all of the national parks are unique in their own ways. But Channel Islands National Park is special to me because I earned my first junior ranger badge there when I was five. It is an amazing park because of the diversity of wildlife on land and in the sea. I first experienced the Park with my parents and now my parents and I are all volunteers for Channel Islands National Park and the Channel Islands Park Foundation.

Why do you think it’s important for kids and families to spend time outdoors?

Tigran: It’s good to spend time outdoors with your family because it builds wonderful memories and teaches important lessons and skills such as perseverance by completing long hikes, and it teaches us to be more aware of the environment and the importance of protecting our incredible parks for future generations.

Have you heard about the Every Kid in a Park program? If so, were you able to participate? Why or why not?

Tigran: Yes, I love the Every Kid in a Park program. Unfortunately, I was one year too old to participate in the program. However, I have helped promote the program on social media. Every Kid in a Park used my photograph to promote the program in Scholastic Magazine, and I am happy to say that the entire fourth grade class at my school participated in the program.

Do you think this program is important to continue for future generations?

Tigran: Yes, it’s important to continue the program because it gets kids involved with nature when they are young, yet old enough to get the full educational experience of our beautiful parks.

Is there anything you’d like to say to the people who run the program?

Tigran: I would like to say thank you for creating the program. It helps kids to have easier access to our national treasures. It gives the opportunity to participate in the junior ranger programs and become park stewards. I would not have become a Buddy Bison Student Ambassador, a National Park volunteer or a Channel Islands Park Foundation Board Member without the junior ranger program.

What advice would you give to other students who are perhaps visiting a national park for the first time or receiving their Every Kid in a Park pass?

Tigran: First of all, take your time to look around to get the most out of your visit. A great way to do that is to earn your junior ranger badge, which will help guide your activities in the park. Be sure to talk to rangers—they can often share stories that you can’t find at the visitor center. They each have such incredible knowledge of our parks. Just head outdoors and make the most of your special pass.

What would you want to be when you grow up? Is it related to the outdoors?

Tigran: My ultimate goal is to be the Director of the National Park Service. It would be an honor to direct the preservation and protection of our beautiful and unique national parks.

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Photo Credit: National Park Trust
august-2016
Photo Credit: National Park Trust, Maddie Freed

*Since the posting of this blog, Tigran has now turned 13! Happy birthday, Tigran!

Fourth Graders Float into OAK Week 2017

Parent and two kids canoeing along the Potomac River
Photo Credit: National Park Trust

All photo credits go to the National Park Trust.

Classrooms on water is a new way of learning for students across the nation. This new type of classroom allows students to learn about science, history, geography, and culture while floating along a river. This past week, Wilderness Inquiry’s Canoemobile program traveled to the nation’s capital giving students in Washington D.C. the chance to experience a unique outdoor field trip on the Potomac River.

The National Park Service advocates for “Parks as Classrooms,” and it’s no different when talking about rivers and bodies of water. Canoemobile brings the classroom to the outdoors, engaging youth in environmental stewardship and recreational opportunities. Canoemobile is a collaboration of federal, state, and local partners.

OAK members joined Wilderness Inquiry and National Park Trust for a special Canoemobile event in Washington, D.C. with partners The North Face, National Park Service, and the U.S. Forest Service to celebrate the Every Kid in a Park program and kick off OAK’s annual gathering.

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A highlight in the event was the distribution of Every Kid in a Park passes. This interagency program grants fourth graders nationwide free entry for them and their families to more than 2,000 federally managed lands and waters nationwide for an entire year.  The goal of the Every Kid in a Park program is to inspire fourth graders everywhere to visit our federal lands and waters. The program works to ensure “every child” in the U.S. has the opportunity to visit and enjoy their federal lands and waters by the time he or she is 11 years old. Having just been renewed for its third year this past September, the passes given to these students will be valid until August 31, 2018.

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Seventy fourth graders from D.C. public schools were able to take 24-foot Voyageur canoes along the Potomac river and learn about the watershed. For many of these students, although the Potomac river is just a few miles away, they have never actually been on the river to participate recreationally. With the proper instruction, the fourth graders were able to safely enjoy the Potomac River and learn about its environmental importance.

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Partnering organizations led activity stations for the students. The North Face led students through a relay race activity which taught students how to properly pack a backpack and build a tent for a camping trip. With a little competition and movement, students were able to stay engaged and learn new skills about recreating in the outdoors.

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As a wrap up to the morning of events, the fourth graders were asked to fill out postcards from OAK explaining why they love their Every Kid in a Park pass. This initiative is part of a larger national campaign OAK is organizing for any fourth grader in the nation. To download and mail in postcard from home, visit the OAK website.

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Even WTOP, a local FM radio station, stopped by to cover the event! Read their story.

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This youth event kicked off this year’s official OAK Week. Later in the afternoon, OAK formally welcomed all member organizations with a Welcome Reception & Member Awards. In the next two days, OAK continued with its Annual Member Meeting, Networking Happy Hour, Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill, and finalized the week with a Congressional Awards Reception.

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Learn more about the Outdoors Alliance for Kids and ways to joining this national strategic partnership which advocates for equitable and readily available opportunities for children, youth and families to connect with the outdoors.

RELEASE: OAK 2017 Award Winners Announced

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Friday, October 27, 2017

Contact: Jackie Ostfeld, 202-548-6584, jackie.ostfeld@outdoorsallianceforkids.org

OAK 2017 Award Winners Announced

lawmakers from both of sides of the aisle recognized for leadership

Washington, D.C. — Today, the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK) announced the recipients of the 2017 “OAK Awards.” A bipartisan and bicameral group of lawmakers including Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Representative Niki Tsongas (D-MA-3), and Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY-21), and several OAK members received awards during the annual meeting of the Alliance.

The “OAK Awards” are bestowed annually on a bipartisan and bicameral cohort of decision-makers and OAK members for significant contributions in advancing opportunities for children, youth, and families to learn, get active, and serve in the outdoors.

OAK Tree Award Recipients (Decision-Makers):

Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM): recognized for leadership in connecting children and youth with our parks and public lands, and advancement of the Every Kid Outdoors Act.

“Our national parks and public lands are outdoor classrooms with endless opportunities to learn and make memories,” said Senator Heinrich. “Connecting kids to the outdoors can inspire a lifelong connection to conservation, while reaping all of the health benefits that go along with an active lifestyle. I am grateful for the support and work of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids that helps kids and their families access the rich natural and cultural history on display in our parks, forests, and monuments.”

Senator John McCain (R-AZ): recognized for leadership in supporting career pathway programs for youth and veterans in conservation, and advancement of the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps Act.

Representative Niki Tsongas (D-MA-3): recognized for leadership in connecting children and youth with our parks and public lands, and advancement of the Every Kid Outdoors Act.

“Thank you to OAK for this award but even more so for your members’ dedicated efforts to encourage kids and families to get outside and enjoy the beautiful spaces that play such an important role in our communities,” said Congresswoman Tsongas. “Together, we must continue to inspire a new and more diverse generation to embrace a healthy, active lifestyle, learn about our country’s natural and historic treasures, and fall in love with our public lands and the outdoors.”

Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY-21): recognized for leadership in connecting children and youth with our parks and public lands, and advancement of the Every Kid Outdoors Act.

“I thank the Outdoors Alliance for Kids for this award, but also for their tireless efforts on behalf of our nation’s children,” said Congresswoman Stefanik. “The Every Kid Outdoors Act will encourage our nation’s children to see our beautiful treasures and monuments, learning about our rich national heritage in the process. This will help cultivate their appreciation for protecting our environment and public lands. As the home of the Adirondacks, in my district we know how critical it is to get our children outdoors exploring our parks, and I am pleased to work in a bipartisan fashion with my colleagues on this issue.”

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Members of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids present Congresswoman Niki Tsongas with the OAK Tree Award.

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Members of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids present Congresswoman Elise Stefanik with the OAK Tree Award.

OAK Leaf Award Recipients (OAK Members):

Kyle Stewart, Alliance of New York State YMCAs: recognized for work to pass Assembly Bill 735 into law to develop a long-term strategy to encourage and promote outdoor environmental education and recreational opportunities in New York State.  

Upon receiving the award, Kyle Stewart, Executive Director of the Alliance of New York State YMCAs said, the Alliance of New York State YMCAs is honored to receive the OAK Leaf Award and appreciates this recognition for our work to achieve legislation that encourages and promotes outdoor education and recreational opportunities. We are proud to work with such an esteemed alliance that strives for the health and well-being of our kids.”

Casey Andrews, Seattle Every Kid in a Park Collaborative: recognized for work to advance the Every Kid in a Park program across Seattle. The “Collaborative,” supported by OAK members Islandwood, Seattle YMCA, NatureBridge, and Washington Trails Association, along with the National Park Service, National Forest Service, Seward Park Audubon, Seattle Parks and Recreation and Steven’s Pass Ski Resort work together to increase engagement in the outdoors for Seattle youth, including through the federal Every Kid in a Park program which provides 4th graders and their families with encouragement and a free access pass to national parks and public lands.

Upon receiving the award, Casey Andrews of the Seattle EKIP Collaborative said, “It is an honor to receive the Leaf Award on behalf of the Seattle Every Kid in a Park Collaborative. The Seattle EKIP Collaborative is working together to decrease barriers and increase engagement for Seattle youth with multiple outdoor engagement opportunities, including the 4th grader federal lands pass. We do this to connect youth with their community parks and federal lands to foster the next generation of environmental stewards. I would like to thank OAK for their continued work to engage youth and families across the country. It is a privilege to be a member of such a committed and accomplished alliance.”

Paul Sanford, The Wilderness Society: recognized for his leadership in advancing OAK’s advocacy efforts and building strong federal partnerships for the Alliance in service of getting more kids outdoors on federal lands and waters.

Upon receiving the award, Paul Sanford, National Director of Recreation Policy at The Wilderness Society, and OAK Vice Chair said, “The Wilderness Society is honored to be recognized by the members of OAK for our contributions to the work of the Alliance. We are grateful for the opportunity to partner with so many visionary leaders in building a movement to get more kids outside.”

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From left to right: Kyle Stewart, Alliance of New York State YMCAs; Casey Andrews, Seattle Every Kid in a Park Collaborative; and Paul Sanford, The Wilderness Society: OAK Leaf Award Recipients 2017.

The awards were announced during OAK Week, the annual meeting of the alliance. The OAK Awards program was established in 2016.

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About the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK): OAK is a national strategic partnership of organizations from diverse sectors with a common interest in connecting children, youth, and families with the outdoors. The members of OAK are brought together by the belief that the wellness of current and future generations, the health of our planet and communities and the economy of the future depend on humans having a personal, direct, and life-long relationship with nature and the outdoors. OAK brings together nearly 100 businesses and organizations to address the growing divide between children, youth, and the outdoors.

Representative McCollum to join kids on the Potomac River

**MEDIA ADVISORY**

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Friday, October 20, 2017

Contact: Grace Lee, 301-706-3407, grace@parktrust.org

Joe Spring, 612-676-9422,  joe@wildernessinquiry.org

Brenna Muller, 202-630-1864, brenna.muller@sierraclub.org

Representative McCollum to join kids on the Potomac River

DC 4th graders receive their Every Kid in a Park passes

[Washington, D.C.] – 70 fourth graders from DC public schools will be getting in Voyageur canoes on the Potomac River and learning about the watershed at a special event attended by members of Congress. The event will highlight the popular Every Kid in a Park program by introducing children to nature and providing them with one year free passes to all of America’s national public lands, waters, and shores. During the event, Representative Betty McCollum will help distribute Every Kid in a Park passes and join the kids in nature-based activities.

The Every Kid in a Park program is a federal program that provides fourth graders and their families free access to all federal lands for an entire year.

What: Every Kid in a Park Canoemobile Event with 70 Fourth Graders

Who:

  • Congresswoman Betty McCollum (MN-4);
  • 70 fourth graders from DC public schools;
  • Wilderness Inquiry’s Canoemobile, National Park Trust and their official mascot Buddy Bison, The North Face, and the Outdoors Alliance for Kids;
  • National Park Service; U.S. Forest Service; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

When: Tuesday, October 24, 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM; short speaking program and Every Kid in a Park pass distribution at 9:00 AM, followed by land and water-based activities for students. Members of the media encouraged to join students for activities following the formal speaking program.

Where: Thompson Boat Center, 2900 Virginia Ave NW, DC 20037

VISUALS: Photos with children on the water in handcrafted Voyageur canoes and participating in land-based activities in front of the beautiful Potomac River. Children receiving and wearing their official Every Kid in a Park passes. Buddy Bison (large mascot) will be on hand.

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Every Kid in a Park Youth Blog Series: Post #7 Sarah

Photo Credit: National Park Trust

Every Kid in a Park – Youth Blog Series, Post #7
Interview with Sarah H., Buddy Bison Student Ambassador

Meet Sarah H., a twelve year old from New Jersey in middle school. Although she did not receive an Every Kid in a Park pass during her 4th grade year, she is a huge advocate for getting kids her age outdoors and into parks. She serves as a Buddy Bison Student Ambassador through the National Park Trust and was kind enough to talk about her experience as a young leader.

 

What is your name, age, and where are you from?

Sarah: My name is Sarah H.  I’m 12, and I live in Vineland, New Jersey.

What is your role with the National Park Trust?

Sarah: I am a Buddy Bison Student Ambassador. As a student ambassador, I try and get kids and their families to explore outdoors at parks and other natural areas. I post pictures on my Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook pages, @jrrangersarah.  When I visit parks, I talk to the rangers and tell them about Buddy Bison and the National Park Trust. I also write articles for Buddy Bison’s Buzz. I have been working on volunteer projects at different parks, too. In the summer I went to Valley Forge National Historical Park and helped with the Crayfish Corps. I got to help take invasive crayfish out of a stream in the park. I also got to volunteer with a group called the Citizens United to Protect the Maurice River and its Tributaries. I helped them collect dragonfly larvae for one of their projects. I also led a hike on the nature trail at Wheaton Arts in Millville, New Jersey.

What do you love about the outdoors?

Sarah: I love the outdoors because you can explore and there’s always something new to see. I also like learning about plants, animals, and other things outdoors.

What is one of your favorite parks you’ve visited and why? What activities did you participate in and who did you go with?

Sarah: Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is one of my favorite parks. Last year I got to participate in the Centennial Celebration for the National Park Service. I got to take a tour with one of the park rangers and I visited different parts of the park, like the LIberty Bell, Independence Hall, and the Second Bank of the U.S. I really love historical parks like Independence National Historical Park. I love getting to see where our country started. And, you can really walk in the footsteps of our founding fathers. I really like that this is a national park in the middle of the hustle and bustle of a city. Instead of dirt roads with horses going across, its now paved roads with cars going across. My family comes with me on my trips to parks.  

What is your happiest memory in the outdoors?

Sarah: I have so many happy memories in the outdoors! I love spending time with my family outdoors. My grandfather, M.G., goes to a lot of parks with me. He takes me to a lot of the same parks that he took my mom to when she was younger.

What do you love the most about being a Buddy Bison Student Ambassador?

Sarah: As a Buddy Bison Student Ambassador, you get to explore, and you always have someone to talk to about parks and nature. I really liked being able to plan the very first Kids to Parks Day for my hometown of Vineland, New Jersey.

Can you explain one of your biggest accomplishments as an ambassador?

Sarah: In May, 2017, I planned the very first Kids to Parks Day for my hometown of Vineland, New Jersey. I went to meetings for the Vineland Environmental Commission, and they helped me choose a park for the event, and they also helped me with planning the event. I also got a proclamation from the mayor of Vineland for Kids to Parks Day. I planned lots of activities for the day, such as Litter Pickup Hikes, an A to Z hike, and lots more. I also had crafts and an Art in the Park activity for kids and their families.  

Why do you think it’s important for kids and families to spend time outdoors?

Sarah: 1: It’s healthy for you.
2: It’s fun.
3: Just because it’s awesome!

Have you heard about the Every Kid in a Park program? If so, were you able to participate? (Why or why not?)

Sarah: Yes, I have heard about the program. I did not participate, because when I was in 4th grade I had not heard about the program yet. I have a younger sister, and she’s excited to get her Every Kid in a Park pass when she’s in 4th grade.

Do you think this program is important to continue for future generations?

Sarah: Yes, because it gives more kids the chance to get outdoors to parks. There are so many great places out there to explore!

Is there anything you’d like to say to the people who run the program?

Sarah: It would be nice if they had Every Kids in a Park passes for more grades.  

What advice would you give to other students who are perhaps visiting a national park for the first time or receiving their Every Kid in a Park pass?

Sarah: Do what you love, and don’t stop! Visit as many parks as you can, talk to the park rangers, and complete the junior ranger badge books. You will learn a lot and have so much fun, too!

Lastly, what do you want to be when you grow up? Is it related to the outdoors?

Sarah: When I’m older, I’m going to be a mayor, governor, congresswoman, and the first female president of the United States. I was thinking that when I’m president, I will appoint Junior Ranger Tigran, who is also a Buddy Bison Student ambassador, to be the director of the National Park Service.  

Photo Credit: National Park Trust

Every Kid in a Park Youth Blog Series: Noam (Seattle Every Kid in a Park Collaborative)

Noam Hiking in Glacier National Park

EVERY KID IN A PARK: Youth Blog Series, Post #6
Interview with Noam, a former Every Kid in a Park pass user, and participant through the Seattle Every Kid in a Park Collaborative.

Noam D.  is about to start 5th grade at Highland Park Elementary School in Seattle. He is originally from California where he was actually born in a National Park Service site – Golden Gate National Recreation Area!

Can you introduce yourself?

Noam: I’m Noam and I’m 10 years old. I’m about to start 5th grade. I was born in California but now I live in Seattle.

How did you get your Every Kid in a Park Pass?

Noam: We were going to get it at school but I got it online first because my dad knew about the Seattle Every Kid in a Park Collaborative. I was really happy when I learned about it.

What parks did you visit and with whom?

Noam: I went to Rainier with my dad, two friends, and their dad; Yellowstone and Glacier with my dad; Olympic with my mom, dad, sister, and grandmother; and Billy Frank Jr. National Wildlife Refuge with my mom, dad, and sister.

Which park was your favorite?

Noam: Yellowstone!

Why was it your favorite?

Noam: It had really cool sunsets, lots of mountains, and lots of wildlife that you would rarely see like bears and wolves, yellow-bellied marmots, elk and bison.

Was it your first time visiting any of these sites?

Noam: Yes, it was my first time visiting Yellowstone, Glacier, and Billy Franky Jr.

What did you do at Yellowstone?

Noam: We looked for wolves, got hailed and rained on, and went on hikes!

Was this your first time visiting Yellowstone?

Noam: Yes

Would you like to go back to Yellowstone?

Noam: Yes, I’d like to go back to Yellowstone with my mom and sister because I think they’d be really interested in all the cool animals and sites.

What’s your favorite activity to do outdoors?

Noam: I like to go on hikes, explore, and look for animals.

Why do you like to go to parks?

Noam: It’s much cleaner than cities and towns. There’s more wildlife that you can see. And you can experience a better world.

Why do you think it’s important for kids to go outside and visit parks like the ones you were able to visit?

Noam: It’s a good opportunity to discover new things that’s a lot better than cities and towns. It’s a lot cooler!

What is your favorite memory from a national park?

Noam: Seeing a pack of wolves in Yellowstone!

Are you happy you received an Every Kid in a Park pass?

Noam: Yes – very happy.

What advice would you have for future 4th graders getting their pass this year?

Noam: It’s very important to pay more attention to the animals and the scenes. You’re in a really cool park that is sometimes hard to see when there’s a lot of people there.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Noam: Thank all you guys for letting me get the pass. I got to experience things I’ve wanted to since I was 3 or 4 years old.

Sam and Noam near Yellowstone Falls in Yellowstone National Park.
Sam and Noam near Yellowstone Falls in Yellowstone National Park.

The Seattle Every Kid in a Park Collaborative brings together nonprofits and federal land management agencies serving the Puget Sound region to develop strategies to ensure all fourth grade students in the area (and their families) have opportunities to visit public lands and parks through the Every Kid in a Park initiative. Collaborative members include: The National Park Service, IslandWood, The National Forest Service, NatureBridge, YMCA Bold and Gold, The Washington Trails Association, Seattle Parks and Recreation and the Seattle Audubon Society.

For more information visit: www.ekipseattle.org.


This is the sixth post in a youth blog series highlighting students’ experiences through the Every Kid in a Park program, and those with similar first-time outdoor experiences.

Pisces Foundation: Investments in People and Nature Thriving Together

– Interview with Jason Morris, Pisces Foundation, by Jackie Ostfeld, Outdoors Alliance for Kids 

jasonmorris

The Pisces Foundation is working to advance strategic solutions to natural resource challenges and prepare the next generation by supporting environmental education. Pisces believes if we act now and boldly, we can quickly accelerate to a world where people and nature thrive together. Pisces mainstreams powerful new solutions to support innovators who know what it takes and are doing what’s necessary to have clean and abundant water, a safe climate, and kids with the environmental know-how to create a sustainable world.

I asked Jason Morris, Environmental Education Senior Program Officer at the Pisces Foundation, to share his thoughts on where the movement to connect kids with the outdoors is heading. The Pisces Foundation is a new supporter of OAK and we’re honored by their commitment to the field. Enjoy the interview here.


Jason, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your own interest in environmental education. Why is this field important to you personally?

For me, like many in the environmental education field, nature has shaped who I am and what I do.

When I was 12 years old, I lived for the summer. I would fish in the canal by my house, care for the animals on my family’s farm, and explore the wonders of the natural world as often as I could. I remember one of my first camping trips into Rocky Mountain National Park. It was right after the first snowfall of the year. My family stumbled upon a huge meadow, where it seemed like every elk in the entire world had gathered. I was mesmerized. I stood there and stared as they grazed and mingled. For a moment, I felt like part of the herd. I was completely struck by an overwhelming feeling—awe. This story, among thousands of other experiences I’ve had in nature throughout my life, stands out to me. I share this story because feeling awe, even for a moment, can truly shake the foundation of what we believe.

As a kid, I yearned to be in nature as often as possible. Growing up, I always hoped to experience the natural world, at home, at work, and at play. I have made it my life’s work to ensure that more people, at all ages, get to experience the benefits of nature—and not just in the summer!

Tell us about the hopes and dreams the Pisces Foundation has for environmental education?

At Pisces Foundation, we believe that when kids gain the environmental know-how they need to thrive in a rapidly changing world, we’ll see smarter decisions, stronger communities, and daily actions that improve their well-being and our planet. Environmental education is a proven way to get kids more engaged in learning and active and healthy outdoors. We see that more and more schools, states, and communities are tapping into the many benefits that come with environmental education and making it a part of every child’s experience. Our hope is that every child receives the benefits of environmental education. Environmental education is not a one-time event. It’s a series of life experiences that allow children to grow into adults who embrace responsible behaviors in order to make smarter decisions about the world. Research has shown that the benefits of environmental education can be immediate and long-lasting.

With so many pressing environmental challenges, like climate change, why is it also important for environmental organizations and the philanthropy community to invest in environmental education and getting kids outdoors?

I’m glad you asked this question, because it’s important to think of environmental education as an immediate investment as well as an investment in our future. Environmental education leads to gains in conservation, education, health and wellness, social justice, and youth development. Many of these benefits improve our communities and our planet today. And, kids who experience environmental education can grow up to be responsible, well-prepared citizens, ready to make the choices and decisions necessary to solve the pressing environmental challenges of tomorrow. We know that the sooner we act, the sooner we see the benefits. Solving environmental challenges and investing in environmental education are not an “either-or” division. They are important “both/and” investments that mutually reinforce one another. Both are integral components to get to the point where people and nature can thrive together.

On behalf of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids, I cannot thank you and the Pisces Foundation enough for investing in our mission to advocate for equitable and readily available opportunities for children, youth and families to connect with the outdoors. As we enter our first year of collaboration with Pisces, do you have any advice for OAK and our alliance member organizations on how we can work together to expand and improve not just access, but equity in access, to the outdoors and outdoor learning opportunities for children and youth?

Research has shown that environmental learning levels the playing field, across gender and ethnicity. We know that outdoor experiences improve children’s self-esteem, leadership, and character. We know that unstructured play outdoors improves mental and physical health. We know that environmental learning sticks with kids more than traditional learning, that it stokes interest in science, and that it sparks the curiosity that makes kids better learners. We know all of this, yet the average American child spends 4 to 7 minutes a day in unstructured play outdoors, and over 7 hours a day in front of a screen.

What we need is to connect children with nature. Not just some children—all children. Every child not only deserves access to nature, every child requires it. In order to deliver this to every child, we can no longer imagine nature only in the iconic treasured landscapes. To give every child the opportunity to form a lasting connection with nature, we must find nature nearby. We have to re-imagine what and where nature is. Through environmental education, we can give all kids the opportunity to experience the world that left me awe-struck as a 12-year-old. Whether it’s in a meadow watching a herd of elk, or in a city park staring up at a big oak tree, or in their own backyard discovering the joy of nearby nature, environmental education delivers.

How did you get outdoors with your family this summer?

My wife, daughter, and I spent an amazing week along the Metolius River in eastern Oregon. Surrounded by millions of acres of wilderness, we wandered along the banks of the river, canoed across a stunning mountain lake, and biked through the sun-drenched massive pine forest. A perfect opportunity to boost our spirit and nourish our passion for wild places.

EVERY KID IN A PARK: YOUTH BLOG SERIES POST #5 Nicole

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Every Kid in a Park – Youth Blog Series, Post #5
Interview with Nicole, incoming 4th grader and Every Kid in a Park pass recipient

Nicole is an incoming 4th grader at Harmony Hills Elementary School in Montgomery County, Maryland. Interviewer, Isabel Argoti, introduced Nicole and her family to the Every Kid in a Park program and they are excited to participate in the program this school year. Nicole shares with us her excitement about the outdoors and her sentiments about the program.

What is your name, age, and where are you from?
Nicole: My name is Nicole. I’m 9 years old and will be attending Harmony Hills Elementary School.

What do you love about the outdoors and nature? What do you like to do outdoors?
Nicole: I like all the colorful plants that are around me and how beautiful nature is. I like to take a short walk with my dogs and playing basketball with my mom when we have free time.

Have you visited Rock Creek Park or some of the other national parks or monuments around Washington D.C.? If so, what did you like about them?
Nicole: I went to the Martin Luther King Jr. monument it was so cool because it was my first time seeing it.

What about to parks such as Shenandoah National Park? (shows photos)
Nicole: No I haven’t.

Well did you know that with your Every Kid in a Park pass you could visit these sites plus hundreds of others, with your Every Kid in a Park pass for free this upcoming school year? How does that make you feel?
Nicole: Excited and happy because I get to see and experience a place I’ve never seen or been to.

That’s great! Who do you think you will go visit these parks with?
Nicole: I will be visiting with my family –parents and sisters.

What does being in the outdoors and enjoying nature mean to you?
Nicole: Hanging out with my family and friends. It’s a break and escape from what we usually have to do.

Do you think all kids your age should receive this pass to visit national parks? Why or why not?
Nicole: Yes because everyone needs to know about nature and learn more about it. I also think they should know about the program [because] some kids are always on their phones, video games, and TV.

I totally agree, Nicole! Any last comments or anything you’d like to say about the program?
Nicole: Yes, in my opinion I think the government should support the park [and program]. It helps other kids to learn more about nature. I also think that the government should give more money to the park to keep them clean, nice, and beautiful. And also to have lights everywhere so people can go to the park until night time!


Nicole attends a Title I school where over 80% of the students participate in the Free and Reduced Meals (FARMs) program, over 40% of the students are English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) learners, and 90% of the students are either Hispanic or black. Nicole and her family have never visited large national parks before, but they hope to do so now with Nicole’s new Every Kid in a Park pass. Nicole is a first generation student in the United States and her family is originally from Ecuador.

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connecting children, youth and families with the outdoors