A Reading Ranger program was developed to bring awareness to students and teachers of the opportunities for learning through the National Park Service (NPS). It involved Volunteer Senior Rangers and staff members reading to K-6th grade students in a 100-mile radius of Beatrice. Books were age appropriate and connected the students to the themes of Homestead National Monument of America. The 25 readers read to 36 classrooms for a total of 825 students over 7 days.
This project was launched with the Governor and First Lady of Nebraska reading to Beatrice children. It ties directly to the First Lady of Nebraska’s “Read to Your Children” campaign. Family bonds were emphasized by many volunteers who read to their grandchildren while building a connection to the park. One grandfather traveled 300 miles in order to read to his grandchildren’s classrooms. The teachers enjoyed having the interaction and learning associated with the chosen books, and curriculum-based education programs explained. The older students were encouraged to read more and the value of a college education emphasized.
Volunteers developed enhancements to their own programs. While reading the book “Seaman, the Captain’s Dog” which is about Lewis and Clark’s Newfoundland dog, one volunteer read the book and another joined at the end with his Newfoundland dog. The project brought greater awareness to the National Park Service, Homestead National Monument of America and the Web Ranger program. This project coincided with the launching of the Web Ranger program, so students and teachers were given copies of the Web ranger rackcard which shows them how to access other learning opportunities through the National Park Service over the Internet.
The Reading Ranger program connects rural populations with free educational activities. The community has many low-income and at risk children that take information home to their parents. The activities of Homestead National Monument of America are free to anyone. This program encourages senior citizens to work with the day care centers and schools to develop a love of reading. Many of the volunteers requested and assisted in working with their own grandchildren’s classrooms, which encouraged an intergenerational connection in the schools.
The curriculum-based education programs at Homestead National Monument of America are growing to more than 14,000 students participating each year as more teachers learn about the program. Taking the coordination of education resources found in the NPS directly to teachers is an innovative approach. Using senior citizen volunteers, especially when going to their own grandchildren’s classroom, also makes this program possible, since the staff could not provide all the programs requested.