FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: William Schrack, William@parktrust.org, 301-279-7275 x20
From L to R: Lesette Nikki Jackson, Caesars HERO Community Relations; Buddy Bison, NPT Mascot; Yolanda Smith; and Grace Lee, NPT Executive Director.
Washington, DC (June 18, 2019) – National Park Trust (NPT) is pleased to announce that Yolanda Smith, a fifth-grade teacher from Richmond Avenue School in Atlantic City, NJ, is the recipient of National Park Trust’s 2019 National Educator Award for Outstanding Environmental Stewardship.
Thanks to sponsorship from the Caesars Foundation as well as local property support, Richmond Avenue has been able to participate in NPT’s national Buddy Bison School Program since 2013. Yolanda has served as the lead teacher for the multi-year partnership. Over the course of her involvement in the program, Yolanda has developed and implemented an in-depth advanced science program and created a customized curriculum that uses parks as outdoor classrooms. Yolanda also developed her own learning objectives for each park field trip to ensure that all of her students walked away with knowledge gained from their hands-on experiences.
In 2014, Yolanda’s classroom participated in the first ever Buddy Bison Carbon Reduction Contest which aims to teach elementary school children how to identify, measure, and reduce their impact on the environment. Each year, students from different schools take nine different action items included in NPT’s contest toolkit to reduce their carbon footprint. Yolanda’s class won the 2017 Carbon Reduction Contest; they prevented 956 lbs of carbon dioxide from being emitted into the air.
Yolanda Smith accepting her award from Grace Lee, Executive Director of National Park Trust.
Furthermore, Yolanda’s classroom initiatives not only taught her students the tangible impact of their carbon footprint but also led the way to energy-saving improvements school-wide, reducing their energy bill by $100,000. This remarkable development was noticed by the school district, resulting in changes that led to an $800,000 energy cost savings for their entire school district.
Yolanda Smith showing her award to one of her students.
Through the Buddy Bison program and its Carbon Reduction Contest, all of her students have learned how to reduce their carbon footprint and educate others. “We may be molding the next Neil deGrasse Tyson or Albert Einstein,” noted Yolanda as she talked about the impact she has seen on her students. “The possibilities are endless with the knowledge and exposure they have gained. We have taken part in training the next generation of young minds, ready to excel as environmental stewards leading us into the next millennium.”
“We were delighted to honor and recognize Yolanda Smith from Richmond Avenue School with our 2019 National Educator Award. Over the years she has gone above and beyond to connect her Buddy Bison students with the numerous benefits of the great outdoors. These students will be the future stewards of our parks,” stated NPT Executive Director Grace Lee.
“Participating in this program is truly a highlight for our HERO volunteers,” said Lesette Nikki Jackson. “The opportunity to create a new memorable experience for children is its own reward. Yolanda has made environmental education a priority for the students and staff of Richmond Avenue School, creating a positive ripple effect in the community. She has literally opened doors for city kids to go outside and experience all that nature has to offer. Watching the transformation when the students realize playing is an engaging experience and not just an app on a screen is an inspiration. We are excited to see what the future holds for these students and this great program.
ABOUT NATIONAL PARK TRUST
National Park Trust (NPT) is a non-profit dedicated to preserving parks today and creating park stewards for tomorrow. NPT is the only land trust with a comprehensive mission of protecting national parks through land acquisition and creating a pipeline of future park stewards by getting kids to parks. Since 1983, NPT has completed 70 land projects in 31 states, 1 US Territory, and Washington, DC. This school year, NPT will provide an estimated 20,000 under-served kids with park trips through their nationally recognized Buddy Bison Programs and Kids to Parks Day National School Contest, both of which support Title I schools.
Find out more at www.parktrust.org.
ABOUT CAESARS FOUNDATION
Caesars Foundation is a private foundation funded by a portion of operating income from resorts owned or operated by Caesars Entertainment. The Foundation is the entity through which Caesars Entertainment funds programs and projects of $10,000 or more, as well as not for-profit giving requirements imposed by certain operating jurisdictions. The Foundation’s objective is to strengthen organizations and programs in the communities where our employees and their families live and work.
To learn more, visit www.caesarsfoundation.com.
Washington, DC (April 16, 2019) – National Park Trust (NPT) is pleased to announce that Chelsea Vines, a 3rd-grade teacher from M. Agnes Jones Elementary School in Atlanta, GA, has been selected as NPT’s Youth Programs Fellow.
As a two-year fellow, Ms. Vines will serve as an education advisor to the NPT Board of Trustees as a member of the board’s youth programs committee. She will also participate in board meetings including an annual fall meeting in a national park.
NPT has worked closely with Ms. Vines since 2014, when M. Agnes Jones was welcomed into its national Buddy Bison School Program to provide outdoor environmental education for their 3rd grade students—thanks to a multi-year sponsorship from the Georgia-Pacific Foundation.
Prior to becoming a teacher, Ms. Vines was a financial services manager for a major Fortune 500 corporation in Atlanta; however in 2005 she decided to leave the corporate world in search of something more personally fulfilling. She was selected as a 2006 Teach for America Corps Member and upon completion of their rigorous summer institute, she was placed as a 1st-grade teacher at M. Agnes Jones Elementary, a Title I school in downtown Atlanta where over 98% of the students receive free or reduced-price lunch. Over the years, while she has changed grade levels within the school, she has always been passionate about providing new enriching opportunities for her students.
“I’m honored to be named the newest National Park Trust Youth Programs Fellow,” noted Ms. Vines. “NPT continues to give our students the opportunity to see and experience their community in a different light. NPT provides real-life experiences for kids who would only ‘see’ what they learn in a textbook.”
Because of the support from the Georgia-Pacific Foundation, Ms. Vines has been able to incorporate environmental education, outdoor recreation, and stewardship—the 3 pillars of the Buddy Bison School Program—into every aspect of her classroom. She was integral in securing STEM accreditation for her school as part of a committee of teachers who worked to inspire others by incorporating STEM lessons across the curriculum. Thanks to the efforts of that committee, M. Agnes Jones was the first school in Atlanta to receive full STEM accreditation, and most recently STEAM, accreditation.
“Students’ lives have changed significantly through inspirational teachers such as Ms. Vines and the impactful programs offered through NPT,” said JaKathryn Ross, Georgia-Pacific’s Senior Director of Community Affairs. “Georgia-Pacific is proud to be a long-standing supporter of the Buddy Bison School Program and educators in our community.”
Ms. Vines has witnessed first-hand the difference that an outdoor education can have in allowing students to learn in their own way. In 2018, one of her students was completely non-verbal, but when he had the opportunity to learn about farming by harvesting radishes at Serenbe Farms during one of the Buddy Bison field trips, he surprised everyone by exclaiming with glee, “Look! I have a radish!”
Because of her extraordinary efforts to connect her students with the benefits of the great outdoors, Ms. Vines was also the recipient of NPT’s 2018 National Educator Award for Outstanding Environmental Stewardship.
“With her unique background and dedication to surrounding her students with STEM education opportunities, she is an ideal teacher to become NPT’s newest fellow,” added Billy Schrack, director of youth programs at National Park Trust. “She ties her classroom into the wider world and provides a rich experience for every student.”
ABOUT NATIONAL PARK TRUST
National Park Trust (NPT) is a non-profit dedicated to preserving parks today and creating park stewards for tomorrow. NPT is the only land trust with a comprehensive mission of protecting national parks through land acquisition and creating a pipeline of future park stewards by getting kids to parks. Since 1983, NPT has completed 70 land projects in 31 states, 1 US Territory, and Washington, DC. This school year, NPT will provide an estimated 25,000 under-served kids with park trips through their nationally recognized Buddy Bison Programs and Kids to Parks Day National School Contest, both of which support Title I schools.
Find out more at www.parktrust.org.
National Park Trust Advisory Board member and longtime teacher, Carolyn Cohen has had a large impact on our Buddy Bison School Program over the eight years she has worked with us. This month, she shares the story of how her Kids to Parks Day lesson left a lasting impression on her students.
“For eight years as an elementary school teacher, I championed National Park Trust’s mission to make our local and national parks accessible to children of all economic backgrounds. I witnessed the joy of children playfully engaged with nature, incorporating life skills such as problem solving, cooperation, and stewardship, while reaping the health benefits inherent in outdoor play.
Washington Grove students pose with a beaver-felled stump during their park trip.
Through National Park Trust I learned that many children did not have the opportunity to take advantage of our local, state, and national parks. Not all schools could afford the transportation costs for a park visit, and many families did not have the means or the transportation options to visit these parks on their own. To help address this inequality I decided to have my third grade class enter the Kids to Parks Day School Contest on behalf of a nearby Title I public school. They would calculate the budget and create a compelling story for their narrative to explain why this Title I school should receive a free park trip in their stead from National Park Trust.
The process of completing the application was an extremely gratifying endeavor for the students, it worked perfectly with my curriculum and provided an experiential learning component for them that was relevant and tangible. The students researched costs of snacks for the trip and used the food ads in newspapers to find the best bargains for healthy snacks. Budgeting for this gave them experience combining math skills and economically derived decision making.
My students worked together and decided that using a persuasive writing style would be more interesting and help them win the contest. They researched local parks, collecting photos of their favorites and adding captions to captivate their audience. They learned how to choose a park within reasonable proximity to the selected school and planned a boat trip on a lake for the lucky winners. Some of the children even called the selected park to determine any additional costs for this experience. The students exhibited great joy as they worked hard to provide this trip to other kids who would not otherwise be able to enjoy such a field trip. Their final application was an entire book, bound to accompany their application—a beautiful blend of technology and written expression showing why another class deserved this trip.
When my class learned that they were one of the national winners, the cheers were deafening, there were high-fives all around and smiles that could not have been bigger. They were so proud that their hard work had paid off and that kids just like them that couldn’t have visited a park otherwise were going to experience the fun and adventure of a trip outside. The best moment came for my students at the end of the year, when they received handmade thank you cards from the fifty students from the winning school, expressing their gratitude for the free park trip.
Thank you note from Washington Grove student
Because of my students, fifty children went on a free class trip that seamlessly integrated with their science curriculum and let them witness first hand the habitats and ecosystems they were studying in class. They took a boat ride—many for the first time in their lives—with a naturalist who showed them the species they had studied in class. Their day was filled with healthy outdoor exercise and allowed them to engage with nature and experience the wonder of the outdoors.
We too often live with a narrow view of the world, not cognizant of the discrepancies that exist for populations of children in our own backyards. If we continue to find ways for our youth to show their concern for others through environmental awareness contests like this one, we can make a difference. Not only will our environment prosper but our humanity will as well.” —Carolyn Cohen