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Thousands of students get free parks passes, state officials say

About 4,000 students from kindergarten to 12th grade who attend underserved schools around the state will get to visit state parks and historic sites, thanks to a $500,000 grant, officials said Thursday.

The aim is to counter an approximately 50 percent drop in park visits by schools since the Great Recession, said Rose Harvey, commissioner, state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, at the Theodore Roosevelt Nature Center at Jones Beach.

And for a second year in a row, the state will honor the free passes the National Park Service offers fourth-graders and their families, she told her audience, which included a few dozen fourth-graders from the Archer Street School in Freeport.

Ensuring that children under 11 years old get to experience the outdoors can turn them into park lovers for life, she said.

“It means you’re going to have a positive attitude about the environment, and you’re going to be the ones who take care of it,” she said.

Bryan Erwin, chair of the Long Island State Parks Commission, summed it up for the fourth-graders quite succinctly.

“All we’re asking you to do is go out and have fun,” he said.

Since the transportation grant was announced in July, about 120 schools have applied. The funds cover the cost of the bus trips from schools in areas struggling with poverty, obesity, diabetes and asthma.

Last renovated in 2000, the Nature Center is scheduled for a $250,000 overhaul in a couple of years, park officials said.

Archer Street School student Oluwadamiloju Popoola, 9, embraced what — and how — she learned at the center.

“It was very exciting because we got to do scavenger hunts and play ‘Jeopardy’ with different sections, and you have to answer all the questions,” about dunes, the marsh, saltwater, and the Atlantic Ocean, she said.

The turtles and snakes were the center’s living stars.

“And there was like a huge Orca skull,” noted her classmate Kevin Rosa, 10.

Sylvia Moreira, one of their teachers,- said the field trip made the students’ science classes much more meaningful.

“They read about it and listen to it — but now they get to see it here,” she said.


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