My STEM Units

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

America's Greatest Classrooms: Free Annual Pass

Americans have been responsible for some amazing inventions. Electricity, the telegraph, the iPhone (just sayin'). Americans have also been credited with the invention of the national park system. A system which serves to protect natural wonders, culturally significant sites, and historic locations. National Park Service was created by an act signed by President Wilson on August 25, 1916.

Now, on the eve of it's centennial, our current president is opening the doors to national parks again. Through his "Every Kid in a Park" initiative, President Obama, along with National Park Service, is offering a free National Parks Pass to every 4th grader in America.  Fourth graders and their families will have free access to all national parks and federal lands for the entire 2015-2016 school year.  The initiative is intended to get students outside and "put down the smartphones".

Why Fourth Graders?

Fourth graders have been chosen for several reasons.

  • Typically, state standards focus on state history in fourth grade. Visiting a national park, be it a geological formation, a historical site, or a cultural center, is a wonderful way to bring history to life.
  • Along with state history, states commonly assess fourth graders on science standards. National parks exude science! (For more info on this see my National Parks: Treasure for Teachers section below). 
  • In 4th grade, students typically have just one teacher, as opposed to junior high school, where students have multiple teachers. Having one teacher simplifies the process for field trips.
What if our school doesn't have money for field trips?

The National Park Foundation along with National Park Service offers transportation grants to schools through the Ticket to Ride Program

How do we sign up?

Go to Every Kid in a Parks website: and click on "Get your pass".

I recently interviewed Lauren Carter, an Education Technician at Petrified Forest National Park. She provided important information for families and teachers:

"Getting a 4th grader pass is easy! Students visit the website, complete a short activity about things they can do in public lands, then they are able to print out a pass at home. They can use the paper pass to bring a carload or 3 additional adults with them to any federal recreation area depending on how the park charges fees. The passes work just like the current inter-agency annual passes. If they are visiting a non-staffed area such as Forest Service, the pass can be displayed on the dash of the car. 

The child has to be present with the pass for the adults to gain free entry. The passes are for 4th graders or kids who will be 10 years old anytime between September, 1st 2015 and August, 31st 2016. This allows for home schooled students and free choice learners to participate. The plan is to continue this for many years so each year a different set of fourth graders can benefit. 

Students can bring their paper pass to any park that issues inter-agency passes to exchange the paper pass for a plastic card pass. They don't have to do this though. The paper passes are good for the whole school year. If it gets lost or damaged, they can just go on the website again to get another pass. Paper passes must be presented by the student to exchange for a plastic pass. All passes for this year will have the same expiration date of August, 31st 2016.

Teachers can also go on the website and print off a batch of passes for their students. There is a lesson plan that can be used in conjunction with this. One of the things we can do in the park is have ranger guided education programs centered around the "Every Kid in a Park" lessons and then we can issue paper passes at the end of the program to a whole class. Due to staffing, these programs need to be arranged in advance. We are so excited to be part of the Every Kid in a Park program!" 

National Park Service celebrates their 100th anniversary in 2016.  To help celebrate, I have compiled a list of resources for teachers and parents.  My National Parks: Treasure for Teachers series offers a myriad of resources and opportunities for teachers and classrooms.

  • Teacher Workshops
  • Traveling Trunks and Materials on Loan
  • Virtual Field Trips and other Online Opportunities
  • Teacher-Ranger-Teacher
  • Field Trips and Institutes

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