Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today announced a new agreement to build, develop and formalize programs that use national parks, national wildlife refuges and other public lands as classrooms and catalysts for 21st century education -- designed to benefit teachers, students and parents in rural America and urban classrooms alike.
Today's announcement comes in advance of Friday's White House Conference on Conservation being hosted at the Department of the Interior that will spotlight community-driven conservation efforts as part of President Obama's America's Great Outdoors Initiative.
The Memorandum of Understanding signed by Secretary Salazar and Secretary Duncan enables the Department of the Interior and the Department of Education to work together in new and more effective ways to connect young Americans to the outdoors, improve environmental literacy, support experiential learning outside the classroom, and form partnerships at the local level to learn from and conserve public lands.
Additionally, the agreement will help implement the President's goals for the Department of Education by investing in the education necessary to build a workforce with skills to succeed in the conservation and outdoor recreation economy and to develop careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
"An economy that's built to last requires that we make sure our children get the education and training they need so we have a workforce ready to take on the jobs of tomorrow," said Secretary Salazar. "This innovative partnership will help schools use our national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands as educational and professional development tools to bring new environmental and historical knowledge to students and develop skills for the next generation of workers in America's growing outdoor economy."
America's outdoor economy -- including outdoor recreation, conservation and heritage initiatives -- powers 8.4 million jobs and generates more than $1 trillion in economic activity annually, according to recent non-governmental estimates. Independent estimates also show that the leisure and hospitality sector could add 2.1-3.3 million jobs this decade -- the third highest job growth potential by sector.
"Science, technology, engineering and math fields are driving forces in the global economy," said Secretary Duncan. "Partnerships between our nation's schools and our national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands is a smart approach that can better prepare our children in STEM subjects by providing engaging, hands-on learning experiences, making lessons tangible, and enhancing schools' ties to their communities."
Today's agreement will create new bridges between America's schools and its public lands -- often at the local level, where national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands exist in close proximity to communities, ideally situated as outdoor classrooms for teachers and students nationwide.
Under the agreement, Interior may offer both in-service and pre-service professional development opportunities for teachers and other educators, including workshops, in-depth subject-matter seminars, and summer employment opportunities. The goals include improving teaching skills and developing deeper levels of subject-matter expertise, with a special emphasis on those who work in, or will work in, Title I, rural, and other high-need schools.
Through its relationships with state educational agencies, local school districts, and colleges and universities, the Department of Education can serve as a resource in developing a range of teaching and classroom skills for Interior employees, including Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) funded schools, and partners who serve as educators in the classroom and on public lands. The Department of Education will also commit to encourage math and science, American history, and other programs.
This initiative will build upon, elevate and formalize some programs already in place. The National Park Service, for example, presents more than 95,000 education programs annually and reaches more than 2 million students enrolled in K-12 schools. It also provides extensive online resources for students and teachers. More than 40 parks have educational institutes and field schools.
Other key ongoing initiatives include the Fish and Wildlife Service's "schoolyard habitat" and "biologists-in-training" programs. In fact, the National Wildlife Refuge System welcomes almost a million school children each year to these and other environmental education programs and partnerships held at hundreds of refuges around the nation. Additional programs include Science camps held by the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Hands on the Land initiative -- a network of outdoor classrooms involving six federal agencies that connects America's students, teachers and parents to their public lands and waterways, while supporting school-based curricula correlated to local standards of learning.