This 4th of July, the U.S.A. celebrates its 242nd birthday. It is awe-inspiring to think that it has been 242 years since the first thirteen colonies signed and adopted the Declaration of Independence. Our country has come so far!
And, only 96 years after our country began, Yellowstone National Park was founded, becoming not only our nation’s, but also the world’s, first-ever national park. It is an amazing accomplishment that our country was still so new but that people were already thinking ahead to save parklands for future generations to enjoy.
So, if I could give America a birthday gift this year, it would be to expand the federal “Every Kid in a Park” program for 4th graders and turn it into the “Every 4th, 8th, and 12th Grader in a Park” program.
Why would it be a great gift to America to expand this program and include more grades? Kids learn and are inspired by different things at different ages. We come a long way between grade school, middle school, and high school, and it would be a wonderful gift to be able to experience our national parks at those different ages.
For example, the first time I went to Yellowstone, I was very young and I don’t remember much about it other than seeing a geyser and bringing home my favorite stuffed moose toy. But the second time I visited Yellowstone National Park, I remember an adventure. We had bears walk right past our car, saw a mother and baby bison REALLY close up, and viewed thousands of other animals. While watching a family of foxes, we talked with a man whose job is to photograph the wildlife in Yellowstone. After we got home, we got to see his finished photographs of the foxes on his website. I can’t wait to visit Yellowstone again in a few years, and wonder what it will be like then.
Then last year in 4th grade, my family took on a challenge of seeing as many national parks as we could in one year. I learned so much. I saw a rattlesnake and giant trees in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. I hiked underground through an old lava tube and saw a volcano erupting at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. I was shocked to learn that such a beautiful island as Alcatraz was used as a prison. I stayed in a cabin without electricity and cooked over a campfire at Lassen National Park. I learned about the Spanish exploration of the West Coast at Cabrillo National Monument. And, my most frightening and sad national park visit was when we went to pay our respects to the fallen soldiers of the U.S.S. Arizona at Pearl Harbor National Monument.
Visiting national parks during my 4th grade year was pretty amazing. These experiences will stay with me forever. I would love to see more of America’s national parks in the future, and I’d like others to have the same opportunity.
In conclusion, I appreciate the chance that the “Every Kid in a Park” program gives us to learn more about our country’s environment, wildlife, and history and think it would be a great birthday gift to our country to grow this educational program to have students be able to visit national parks in 4th, 8th, and 12th grades.