April 22, 2021


Erin Hillert
Marketing & Communications Manager
James River Association

Alanna Sobel
National Park Foundation

James River Association Receives New Hybrid Learning Grant from National Park Foundation


NEWPORT NEWS (April 22, 2021) The James River Association (JRA) is one of 32 parks and park partners to receive an Open OutDoors for Kids Hybrid Learning grant from the National Park Foundation (NPF), which works in partnership with the National Park Service and the park partner community to ensure that national parks reach their fullest potential and connect with as many people as possible. This grant will enable JRA to engage every sixth grade student within the Newport News public school system in environmental lessons focused on the natural resources of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The full list of grantees can be found on NPF’s website.

“The James River Association is excited to partner with the National Park Foundation to provide field trips with Newport News Public Schools” said Katie Ferrell, JRA’s Lower James Senior Environmental Educator. “This funding has allowed us to create virtual lessons and virtual field experiences that engage students and teachers remotely in the beautiful Colonial National Historical Park in Jamestown, Virginia. During this Spring semester, JRA environmental educators created four different curriculum lessons (Watersheds, Wetlands, Living Shorelines, and Water Quality) that each met the Virginia SOL middle school standards, and each lesson was turned into a virtual trip with videos that help showcase the amazing NPS. JRA engaged approximately 1,066 students from 7 middle schools this spring.”

With more than 400 parks across all fifty states and the U.S. territories, the NPS traditionally hosts more than 60,000 in-park and distance learning education programs annually, serving over 1.8 million students. 

Recognizing that the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted how and where students are learning, NPF collaborated with the NPS to facilitate a program design workshop in September 2020 with leading experts in evaluation, digital programming, community engagement, and national park leadership. The goal being to advise on how NPF and NPS can meet the needs of students, teachers, schools, and communities during these uncertain times and how lessons learned can be applied in the long-term. The workshop led to the Open OutDoors for Kids Hybrid Learning program, an extension of NPF’s Open OutDoors for Kids Field Trip program. 

“National parks are America’s largest classrooms, and the National Park Foundation is committed to helping students, teachers, and families navigate learning during the pandemic and beyond,” said National Park Foundation President and CEO Will Shafroth. “From green time to screen time to family time, the National Park Foundation is helping the National Park Service and parks community engage students with educational opportunities across the country.” 

For JRA, this funding will open new doors to reaching students regardless of ability, communication barriers, or socioeconomic background. The content will emphasize issues relevant to the local watersheds of Newport News, a city that struggles with negative environmental impacts on its already economically disadvantaged communities. Each component will align with Virginia science standards of learning in collaboration with Newport News teachers and present opportunities for the rigorous, student-focused investigations required to foster environmental literacy in this next generation of stewards.

Since 2011, NPF has engaged more than one million students in educational programs connecting them with national parks across the country. Earlier this year, NPF announced its goal to connect another one million students to parks over the next four years. 

Thanks to private philanthropy, including support for Open OutDoors for Kids from Union Pacific Railroad, a premier partner of NPF’s Youth Education and Engagement initiative; Winnebago Industries Foundation; Niantic; Sierra; Columbia Sportswear; Parks Project; The Batchelor Foundation, Inc.; Humana; and many individual donors, NPF is investing nearly $1 million in the Open OutDoors for Kids Hybrid Learning program supporting communities across the country during the 2020-2021 school year. 

Learn more about NPF’s efforts to engage students with national parks as classrooms.

ABOUT THE JAMES RIVER ASSOCIATION: The James River Association is a member-supported nonprofit organization founded in 1976 to serve as a guardian and voice for the James River. Throughout the James River’s 10,000-square mile watershed, the James River Association works toward its vision of a fully healthy James River supporting thriving communities. The James River Association believes that “when you change the James, the James changes you”. With offices in Lynchburg, Richmond, Williamsburg, and Scottsville, the James River Association is committed to protecting the James River and connecting people to it. For more information visit