Smoky Mountains Parks as Classrooms Program

August 8, 2013

  • Parks as Classrooms in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

by Holly Scott
Friends of the Smokies, Marketing Director

More than 20,000 kids every year get to go to school in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Now, they don’t ride a bus there every day, but students in the Tennessee and North Carolina communities surrounding our national park get opportunities to take field trips into the Smokies.  When I was in school, we took field trips to the zoo, to the opera house to see a ballet.  But it was really just a day trip, a respite from sitting in a classroom smelling chalk and looking forward to the lunch bell.

Creating a sense of wonder

Parks as Classrooms is so much more.  It reinforces the learning concepts that are curriculum goals for the children anyway.  It’s real school, but it’s science the way you always hope it could be- hands-on, using the 5 senses…well, maybe even the 6th sense…the sense of wonder.

The statistics are pretty impressive, too.  Last year, Friends of the Smokies invested more than $226,000 in environmental education programs in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP); with an average of $100,000 annually going to the Park from Friends for resource education that adds up to $2.1 million+ in the organization’s 20-year history!

Through a combination of foundation grants, major corporate gifts and purchases of Friends of the Smokies’ North Carolina and Tennessee specialty license plates, 20,324 students and 4,685 teachers and chaperones enjoyed the national park as an enormous outdoor schoolroom through programs like Parks as Classrooms (PaC) and Teacher-Ranger-Teacher (TRT).

Over the last year, funding from Cherokee Boys Club, Clayton Family Foundation, Cornerstone Foundation of Knoxville, North Carolina Glaxo Smith Kline Foundation, Home Federal Bank, National Park Foundation, North Carolina State University, Richard Haiman National Parks Foundation, Toyota, and Walmart provided seasonal park rangers and resource education interns, supplies and materials needed for hand-on learning activities, and transportation underwriting to bring kids into GSMNP.

Read our press release here.


Park Ranger Lisa Free teaches kids to dig into nature (Credit- Finley Holiday)

Parks as Classrooms students examine

Things great & small in the Smokies present learning opportunities with Parks as Classrooms (Credit- Finley Holiday)

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