Emily Lagattolla, Centennial Volunteer Ambassador at Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
One of my first duties as a Centennial Volunteer Ambassador at Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis was to help coordinate an event called 100 Kids in a Park. The event spanned three days and two parks, so because my supervisor went to help facilitate the event at the other park, I got to play his role at our park! We tweeted about it here, and I even got to write a short article about it for the Midwest Region’s Newsletter, which follows:
The one hundred 4th-6th grade children enrolled at East St. Louis’ Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center received a personal invitation from Chief Ranger Rhonda Schier to visit her park, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, as well as Lewis and Clark State Historic Site in Hartford, IL, in the hopes that one day, they would find their park. Schier went to the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center to pique the children’s interest in the National Parks by telling them about the five Parks that she worked at. The children filled out “a ticket to the ticket to the top,” a graphic organizer summarizing her presentation that they would redeem for their Arch ticket when they came to JEFF.
Nichole McHenry, Relevancy, Diversity, and Inclusion Program Manager, conceived of the three-day event, 100 Kids in a Park, in the hopes of exposing young people from her hometown of East St. Louis to the National Park Service as a resource—both as a space for appreciating, sharing, and stewarding, but also as an opportunity for learning, growing, and maybe one day, working. “I found it rewarding to reach back into the community where I grew up to offer the National Park Service as a career option for the next generation,” said McHenry.
The one hundred kids were divided into two groups, the first group spending the day at Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and the second group spending the day at Lewis and Clark State Historic Site. At JEFF, the day started by ascending the Arch. Even the children who had been to the Arch before with their families or on fieldtrips seemed to be equally excited to clamber into the pod-like trams, and once at the top, pick out familiar landmarks and learn about unfamiliar ones, like the Old Courthouse. After lunch, the second half of the day was spent with the Rangers in the galleries of the Old Courthouse learning about fur trapping, the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and Early St. Louis.
At Lewis and Clark State Historic Site, the children learned all about the Corps of Discovery. They watched a movie about the preparations for the journey, participated in a team building activity based around the difficult task of transporting supplies and gear over land, learned about civilian life in the 1800s, observed fossils and minerals, and ended the day with a few crafts such as making beaded necklaces similar to the ones traded to the American Indian nations.
After both groups saw both parks, on the third day they reconvened at Jacky Joyner-Kersee Center for a farewell presentation from Schier. “The kids were thrilled to demonstrate once again some of the activities they mastered during the week, recite the Junior Ranger Pledge, and receive their Junior Ranger badges,” Schier said. “And I loved seeing their excitement—especially when one of the young park stewards exclaimed, ‘Do I get to OWN this?’ about her new Junior Ranger Badge.” 100 Kids in Park was an event enjoyed by children and Rangers alike, and it was a step toward the Centennial Goal of Every Kid in a Park.