FAIRBANKS — Seeing the tallest on North America’s mountains rise up out of the ground in Denali National Park creates a feeling that’s hard to replicate, but unfortunately, most people never have the chance to witness the peak’s beauty first hand.
Staff at Denali’s Murie Science and Learning Center know that most people will never be able to make the trip to learn from them first hand, but that isn’t stopping them. Education Coordinator Sierra McLane said that if students can’t come to the park, she and her peers will bring the park to the classroom for free.
“Denali has realized over the last number of years, along with national parks across the country, that our audience (for the most part) will never make it to our park,” McLane said. “Reaching classes in the Lower 48 ... a lot of them will never come here so it’s really special to teach them about these resources we have here.”
Starting Monday, education rangers at Denali began teleporting themselves to classrooms across the country through video conferencing programs such as Skype. Teachers will have the chance to take advantage of the classes until Jan. 31.
McLane said the programs aren’t revolutionary for the Denali, or even for other national parks. What’s really interesting about them, is how they update the traditional learning model rangers have been using since the national park system first came into being.
“We do that kind of program for youth groups that come to the park quite often,” McLane said. “Doing it on Skype is just kind of a new twist on an old theme.”
Rangers will offer three courses for students in different age brackets through the distance delivery program.
“The Science of Sled Dogs” shows students in third through fifth grade, through the eyes of one of the park’s sled dog teams, what adaptations allow the dogs to survive in Alaska’s harsh winters. “Denali: The High One” teaches students from fourth through sixth grade about the geology of the park’s biggest feature. “Ask an Alaskan: Living and Working in Denali” offers students from kindergarten through 12th grade, both inside and outside Alaska, the chance to ask rangers about any of their own burning questions.
This will be the second year the park has offered courses to classrooms through distance delivery. Last year education rangers reached more than 1,100 students in 13 states through distance delivery.
The program was so successful last year the Murie Center hired an additional staff member to increase the distance delivery offering. The Ask an Alaskan course also was added for the 2013-14 teaching period.
McLane said the center has had a number of teachers sign their classes up, but it’s not too late to get on the list for this winter.
“We have more capacity than we did last year to offer programs, so there’s still plenty of space available for teachers to sign up,” McLane said.
While distance delivery makes Denali accessible to students from the Lower 48 who might never step foot in Alaska, McLane stressed that students don’t have to live thousands of miles away to benefit from the program. Many of their classes are from areas of Alaska that can practically see Denali out the window.
As budget’s shrink and field trips become increasingly hard to afford, schools as close to Denali as Fairbanks and Anchorage might not be able to send kids the few hours it take to experience the park.
“(Alaskan students) feel pride in being an Alaskan, and yet many of them will not be able to visit Denali either,” McLane said. “For us to be able to reach out and reach kids in Anchorage or Barrow or the Fairbanks area is pretty darn exciting.”
Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com