Kids can experience Grand Canyon in their classroom

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GRAND CANYON, Ariz. – Students who want to experience the Grand Canyon can now do so from their classrooms with a new distance learning program being offered that will allow them to learn from environmental education rangers at the park.

Virtual Studio for Kids costs almost $105,000 and will replace a temporary studio that has been used since 2006. The newer and more improved technology will allow schools to connect via Skype or through a dedicated IP address. Green-screen technology will be added to the studio and "an integrated system that allows for high definition, live, multi-camera video production," according to Shannan Marcak of Grand Canyon National Park.

The rangers will offer interactive classroom presentations on topics of ecology, geology and human history. According to the National Park Service, the programs are curriculum-based and age appropriate.

The National Park Service website provides a breakdown of programs for kindergarten through eighth grade along with the :Ask a Ranger" program for K-12th graders.

Teachers have a choice of presentations to choose from and the programs will include virtual fieldtrips, lesson plans, pre- and post-assessments and additional materials to give students background knowledge on a given topic before the rangers begin teaching.

According to Marcak, rangers are offering seven weeks of programming and expect to reach about 3,000 students this school year. They hope that number continues to grow to as many as 10,000 in the years to come.

"A Grand Canyon field trip can provide excellent learning opportunities; but for many youngsters that field trip simply isn’t a realistic possibility," said Distance Learning Coordinator Amala Posey. "With our new system, we can reliably offer the option of virtual visits to a larger audience than ever before."

Posey spent almost two years researching and planning the project. The funding was provided through grants and donations.

"We are incredibly grateful to Grand Canyon Association’s Board of Directors and members, the S.L. Gimbel Foundation, the Dr. Scholl Foundation, the BNSF Railway Foundation, and Just Roughin’ It Adventure Company for their generous grants and donations," Posey said. "Without them, this project simply wouldn’t have happened."

For additional information about the distance learning program, teachers can visit the National Park Service website.