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EPA Awards NYC Parks $80K for Outdoor Classroom Program Reaching 50,000 Kids; EPA Regional Administrator and Parks Commissioner Net Wildlife in Central Park Pond as Part of Student Ecology Class

Release Date: 11/08/2002
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(#02119) New York, N.Y. – At a ceremony in Central Park today, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Jane M. Kenny presented an $80,000 check to New York City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe to support his agency’s new environmental education program, The Natural Classroom. The program, which is conducted by Parks’ Urban Park Rangers in partnership with the New York City Department of Education, is a response to new more stringent academic performance requirements in the city. It will serve approximately 50,000 students from Kindergarten through grade 8 this school year. The Natural Classroom program is underway at Parks’ nature centers in flagship parks (such as Central Park in Manhattan and

Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx) throughout the city. EPA’s funding will build capacity for The Natural Classroom by helping the Parks Department expand the program to smaller neighborhood parks such as Fort Greene in Brooklyn and Kissena in Queens. To celebrate the grant, Kenny and Benepe joined a 6th grade class – in Central Park as part of The Natural Classroom program – and waded into the 59th Street Pond to net a variety of aquatic animals.

“Students need to know that the New York City environment is more than concrete canyons and streams of traffic,” said Jane M. Kenny, EPA Regional Administrator. “The Natural Classroom program will show them that you don’t have to go to the Amazon to find an exotic beetle or a strange-looking bird. You just have to know where to look.”

“The Natural Classroom represents the most creative programming the city has to offer,” said Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. “As our Urban Park Rangers teach students about the natural world around them we hope they will grow up to become more conscious and protective of New York City's parks and green spaces. This grant will help us reach a larger audience of schoolchildren across the city.”

New York City public school teachers who participate in The Natural Classroom can choose from as many as nine one-day programs for their students: Ecology, Conservation, Botany, Entomology, Ichthyology, Ornithology, Native Americans, Explorers and Historic Houses. These hands-on programs are designed to meet federal, state and city mandated curriculum requirements, and were written by Parks’ Urban Park Rangers in partnership with the New York City Department of Education and the National Geographic Society. Teachers who sign up for the program are sent a curriculum packet that helps them tie the lessons learned during their park-based experience to their classroom curricula, both before and after the park visit. During the park visit, participating children might determine whether a particular park is suitable for the re-introduction of screech owls, investigate a salt marsh to learn what kinds of plants and animals call it home, or navigate through a park forest using a map and compass as a guide.

The annual cost of The Natural Classroom is approximately $500,000. EPA’s $80,000 grant will enable Parks to hire a coordinator to reach out to additional neighborhoods, publish promotional material and lesson plans and create multi-media presentations for the students.

Since 1992, EPA has awarded 2,500 environmental education grants totaling approximately $29 million.