NPCA Report | Making the Grade: Educational Opportunities and Challenges in California's National Parks
"In a world where reality is increasingly virtual . . .these places are real. They are authentic. They capture our imagination, which in the classroom, can be the key to unlocking a student's interest."
--Fran Mainella, Former National Park Service Director
Soon after the National Park Service was established in 1916, education was recognized as a key component of its mission. From Yellowstone to Yosemite, Wright Brothers to Manzanar, the national parks represent America. From some of the best examples of the geologic actions that helped to form the land to some of the most magnificent examples of natural landscapes that helped to shape our history. From our extraordinary achievements to our sorrowful events. As the National Park System Advisory Board said in its 2001 report, Rethinking the National Parks for the 21st Century, "They are powerful resources offering unique, place-based learning opportunities."
Yale University historian and national parks expert Robin W. Winks once said that the national parks were like branch campuses of the largest university in the world. National parks can, and do, play an important role in the education of schoolchildren across the country, and no one, it seems, disagrees with this assessment. Research even backs it up. Students who receive lessons in national parks about earth science, insect biology, geology, and history retain vivid details about the lessons as much as a year after participation, according to studies conducted by Dr. Douglass Knapp of Indiana University, a leading researcher in evaluating national park education programs.
Knapp's results demonstrate that the hands-on experiences give students a sense of place, provide relevance and a point of reference that can be taken back to the classroom. According to National Park Service Director Fran Mainella, "In a world where reality is increasingly virtual. . . these places are real. They are authentic. They capture our imagination, which in the classroom, can be the key to unlocking a student's interest."