The National Parks


Untold Stories | City Kids in National Parks

Explore efforts to bring inner city kids into the parks, often for their first encounters with wilderness. The film tells the story through the lens of two programs -- Biscayne National Park and Death Valley National Park.

AIRED: June 27, 2012 | 0:13:37

(light piano music)

- [Announcer] Las Vegas, a city that lives for the night.

It's also home for half a million people

whose everyday lives are far removed from the razzle dazzle.

- I am a seventh grade teacher in Las Vegas, Nevada

for a lower to middle class school and a lot

of the parents work at casinos.

They have odd shifts, so the parents

aren't always home at certain hours.

I know a lot of my students don't get the experience

to go camping and I just like to share that with them.

Alright, let me have your attention,

seventh graders, are you excited?

(children cheer)

Ready for the trip to Death Valley?

(children cheer)

Alright, how many of you have been camping before?

Those of you that haven't been,

are you ready and excited to sleep in a tent tonight?

(children disagreeing)

(upbeat music)

(children chattering)

- Oh my God!

- This is our Death Valley Rocks Program,

where we bring young kids to Death Valley.

We want this to be a place where they can learn

a whole lot better than being in a classroom.

The youth we wanted to reach were the inner city youth.

The inner city kids, more often than not,

don't have an opportunity to enjoy the out of doors.

- We're gonna go down into the crater,

it will not be as windy as we go down.

- For most of them, this is a completely new experience.

There's only less than ten percent

of the kids that are here who have actually camped,

which means like six or seven kids.

They have no idea any of this is out here.

(children screaming)

Suddenly, you're in wide open

expanse and away from everything.

- Everyone knows how Ubehebe was created?

(children murmur)

Hot magma comes in contact with water,

creates steam and it builds up, builds up,

builds up, and all of a sudden (explosion noise),

and that's Ubehebe Crater.

You will be reenacting how Ubehebe got here.

- Okay.

- Tiffany, come on.

- No, stand over there next to him,

we're gonna move toward each other.

- And who's gonna be the steam?

- Me!

- You can have hands on with Mother Nature.

You can have hands on with geology.

You can have hands on with hydrology, and then,

at the same time, you can have hands on with history,

so what better place to learn all of those subjects

is in the places where they occur.

- Part of the goal of this is to build self-esteem.

Some people would say taking kids down in there,

could that be dangerous, there's all sorts of objections.

You see their faces when they've climbed out of it,

I think, for them, it was a great big accomplishment.

It was a moment for them to see them grow within themselves

once they finally got up there,

to look down and go, "I did it."

(upbeat music)

(children chattering)

- Look in your workbooks, you gotta do

a little bit of dune discovery on your own.

You're going to take a finger,

everybody stick it in your mouth.


You're gonna stick it in the sand,

do not stick it back in your mouth.


You now have a sand sample.

- In class, we studied geology in the Fall,

the rangers came out three different times to our school.

They did activities about the rock cycle and the different

geology, and good stewardship, and things like that, so this

went right along, kind of as a culminating experience.

- What do you see, you see blue?

- Yeah, right there.

- And then salt and pepper.

- Yeah, I even see green.

- Do ya, you see blues and greens?

- I see a yellow, you see that yellow?

- Is that little specks of red in there,

or is that from your hot Cheetos?


- What do those colors mean?

- It means that it came from, like,

a mountain where the sea used to be,

so the water sorta changed the colors.

- Oh, let's try that one right there.

- Okay, let's.

- It's neat to see them when they get there,

"Wow, this is what we've been doing

and this is what we've been reading about."

- We're actually getting better behavior out here

than we were getting in the classroom.

I mean, these kids have been working on their own,

they've been working together afterwards,

and it's also just flat out fun.

- Okay.

(children screaming)

- Let's go, guys.

- Group three, send a person, get a tent.

- Tonight, the kids are gonna be setting up camp.

- Get in your group!

- Experience is the best teacher.

If their tent is not done quite right

and it comes down in the middle of the night,

the only one they're gonna be able to blame is themselves.

It's a great, wonderful learning experience.

(children muttering)

- It won't push!

- The program at Death Valley is new, but the idea is not.

National Parks have been introducing city kids

to the wilderness for decades.

Steven Mather, the first director of the park service,

called the parks vast school rooms of Americanism.

Just a few miles off Miami's urban shoreline lies

Biscayne National Park, where some lucky students

finally get to explore the pristine environment

that's been their backyard their whole lives.

- Okay, the first thing we wanna do

is hold the paddle properly, okay?

You put your hand on the top, like this, and then bring

the paddle in the water in front of you, alright?

In, across, out, feather, okay, I'll go slower.

In, across, up, feather, let me see you do it a few times.

- Biscayne National Park has an education program

that has been in existence since 1976.

The resources that we have out here are just amazing.

It's 95 percent water.

So, the classroom is actually in the park.

(soft music)

We target students throughout South Florida.

We take the students out of the classroom

and bring 'em to the actual ecosystems,

the Mangrove Shoreline, Biscayne Bay and its sea grasses,

the islands which is Hardwood Hammock,

and even out to the Corral Reef.

(soft music)

(children murmuring)

- Who's been here before?

Anybody here before?

- No, it was my first time, my first time.

- This is all new to them, being in a boat,

seeing blue crabs with eggs on it, seahorses, horseshoe

crabs, it just opens their eyes to another world.

- So, who liked it?

- I liked it, but it was scary.

- Yeah, I liked it, but it was scary.

- It was cool.

- I was scared the whole time,

'cause we kept getting stuck.

- It was kinda bossy.

- Who?

- Him.

- Him.

- These kids don't have any type

of aspirations to anything in life.

Close your eyes.

All they know is their neighborhoods,

the crack dealers, the drug dealers.

Let go, Anthony.

They don't get a chance to come together

and work as a team very often.

Everything to them is very competitive.

They don't like working together,

they don't like trusting each other,

so coming here gave them an opportunity

to work on all these different activities

that required them to come together and achieve a goal.

Ready, Ashley, turn around.

- Turn around.

Ask them, "Are you ready to catch?"

- Are you ready?

(children agreeing)

- I'm ready to fall, say "I'm ready to fall."

- I'm ready to fall.

- Okay, cross your hands.

- Close your eyes.

- Fall, just like you did in the circle.

(children screaming and laughing)

- Good job, Ashley.

- You did good, Ashley.

- Y'all gotta get closer.

(children murmuring)

- She's right.

- Okay, go.

- Ready, Wanisha?

Step back, Wanisha, let it go.

(children screaming and laughing)

- It was really awesome to just see them

work together and trust each other, 'cause they don't,

and at first, they were very apprehensive about just

letting go and putting their safety

in somebody else's hands.

- Who down here wants to go?

- Me!

- When they're exposed to seeing that they

can work together and not be working against each other,

I think it gives them a different outlook on life.

(upbeat music)

(children murmuring)

- They're students that need to be

challenged in different ways.

Out here, we have students that never talk in the classroom

and all of a sudden, they're taking the lead.

So, we are providing students with a different method

by which to learn and this is opening up

their world, their appreciation of learning,

and who knows where this will lead them in the future.

(upbeat music)

- Come on, we got pancakes if you want some,

come get 'em, and they're not bad.

Hello, girls.

- Hello.

- Come esta, Miss Cameneno?

(children murmuring)

- I couldn't sleep last night,

it was really cold, I was all wet.

(soft music)

- Who's been camping before?



- No.

- Did anything surprise you?

- The coyotes.

- We heard the coyotes, like, in

the middle of the night three times.

They just started howling, and then

some other coyote started howling,

and then another, and etcetera.

- Oh yes.

- Whoever gets that one is lucky.

- When you watch kids that can be impressed

by just the sound of silence,

when you watch kids who can be impressed

with the idea of seeing the Milky Way to the point

that it silences them, it's powerful,

it's powerful, that's why we work with the inner city kids.

- Come on, get on that end, two of you

on that end, then we'll be on this end.

- Ow, my leg.

- Okay, do your roll.

- We're finding, right now, our largest drop out rate

is actually in middle school, not high school,

they don't even make it to high school.

If this makes a difference in one

kid's life, then it's important.

- I want the students to walk away

with the education of the geology,

and then the meteorology and knowing

the different environments and how this is

the Mohave Desert and they live in the Mohave Desert.

- So, make it as tight as you can.

So, I'll start it off.

- The other thing that I want students to take away

is growth in themselves, and that they can do things,

and if they're independent ...

- I know you wanna go down in style.

Somebody has to care, we care, and as

we teach them how to treat Mother Earth,

maybe they'll do better than we have done it

and let's just hope that a couple of generations

down the road Mother Earth will be

a whole lot better than it is today.

Maybe our generation doesn't have the will,

but maybe this kids will have the will.

(upbeat music)