National Wildlife Refuge System

How Good Is Your Refuge as an Outdoor Classroom?

Fourth graders went on a digital scavenger hunt at Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge, VA.
Credit: Barrett Elementary School, Arlington, VA
Friends of Pool 9, Upper Mississippi River Refuge, IA, sponsors an annual Mississippi River Adventure Day to give children hands-on experiences with nature.
Credit: Friends of Pool 9

About 650,000 students and teachers each year visit national wildlife refuges as model outdoor classrooms for lifelong learning – often with the help of volunteers and Friends organizations. How can we improve environmental education programs to ensure that the next generation will have the skills and motivation to conserve the nation’s environmental resources?


The Refuge System’s draft strategy for environmental education  -- stressing the quality of programs over the quantity of participants -- calls for a comprehensive inventory of resources, staff and delivery methods as the first step in transforming more Americans into conservation stewards. The draft strategy, developed by the Conserving the Future Interpretation & Environmental Education implementation team, is open for public comment until June 28.


A focus on grades 3 through 7 is expected to build appreciation for the natural world while environmental education facilities are to be designed with students in mind. Suggested programs include stewardship projects that can be carried into students’ lives. Virtual field trips are recommended to offer learning experiences about remote refuges that people might not be able to visit.


The plan includes a timeline of goals, such as:

  • By the end of 2013, core competencies and professional development guidelines will be identified for employees, Friends and volunteers.
  • By June 2014, strengths and gaps in the Refuge System environmental education programs will be documented.
  • By December 2015, 15 percent of refuges will provide environmental education programs with community-based partner schools, including at least three visits to a refuge each year.
  • By 2015, staff from 20 refuges will be trained to use digital learning technologies.   


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Last updated: June 17, 2013