Cumberland Times-News

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April 17, 2014

Park Service opens Canal Classrooms

CUMBERLAND – The National Park Service held a ribbon-cutting event Wednesday for a new program called Canal Classrooms, which will offer students pre-K through fifth grade accredited classwork on the Canal Place grounds.

In conjunction with the Allegany County Board of Education, the National Park Service developed the program so students could have a hands-on learning experience in history and science while experiencing a national park.

“It’s really exciting. We are connecting kids with their natural and historical heritage,” said Kevin Brant, superintendent of the C&O Canal National Historical Park.

 The classes will be held in the building located beside the canal basin, but will also include outdoor educational trips to the C&O‚ÄąCanal, railway station and the lower level visitors center and museum.

“Different grades will be targeted for different experiences. Older students could be exploring the Paw Paw Tunnel or visiting Oldtown or Spring Gap taking a nature hike and seeing the locks,” said Cheri Yost, park ranger.

Younger students will spend more time at the Canal Classrooms.

During Wednesday’s event, pre-K students from Parkside Elementary School visited the facility. Several members of the board of education attended the ribbon cutting ceremony.

The studies offered at the Canal Classrooms will be coordinated with the standards contained in the new common core curriculum.

“The board has been a partner on it. We worked with a fabulous group of teachers last summer in a curriculum workshop,” said Yost.

The Canal Classrooms utilize many retired teachers to help with instruction at the facility.

The effort to utilize the park to educate students in history and science is taking place all along the C&O Canal.

 “My job is to develop the education program from D.C. to Cumberland,” said Hollie Lynch, park ranger and education specialist.

Lynch said they offer the classes in Williamsport now and are continuing to expand the program.

“Kids are excited to see the wildlife and the plants. After they’ve taken the classes, we often see them bring their family back on the weekend to show them what they learned,” said Lynch.

Brant said that there are a million children within the counties that surround the park and that provides the park service with the potential to create stewards for the park system into the 21st century.

“They get to see how a lock gate works. Kids are having fun and they’re learning too,” said Ben Helwig, park ranger and supervisor of the Western Maryland district.

“By connecting these kids with their heritage and a national park, hopefully it will spawn that natural curiosity kids have and really start to connect with all 401 national parks,” said Brant.

The Canal Classrooms program will also offer assistance for those schools that cannot secure transportation to the site.

Yost said that school officials and teachers may schedule a visit to the Canal Classrooms by calling 301-491-1517 or sending an email to cocanaleducation@nps.gov.

Greg Larry can be contacted at glarry@times-news.com.

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