Home Local Birmingham fourth graders have free access to U.S. national parks

Birmingham fourth graders have free access to U.S. national parks

Birmingham Mayor William Bell joins Phillips Academy fourth graders in planting flowers at Kelly Ingram Park on Tuesday, March 15, 2016. (Ariel Worthy/Birmingham Times)

By Ariel Worthy

Times staff writer

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Janet Jones-Fields’ fourth grade class from Phillips Academy excitedly lined up for the opportunity to get their hands dirty and plant flowers at Kelly Ingram Park on Tuesday morning.

The students were featured as Mayor William Bell announced Birmingham as one of the selected cities for First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Outside initiative.

The initiative, funded through a $2.5 million national commitment by the American Express Foundation, will provide two years of funding for the YMCA of Greater Birmingham.

Let’s Move! is an effort to get millions of young people to play, learn and work outside. Birmingham has joined the 26 cities that were announced in 2015; the remaining cities will be announced later this year.

“We’ll actually have young folks working with the Y[MCA] to keep these programs going,” said Gayle Hazelwood, Senior Urban Program Manager for the National Park Service. “We want to make sure that you guys know that the Park Service Department of Interior is here to work and committed to work with the community leaders to ensure that this vision is realized.”

As part of the initiative, all fourth graders in Birmingham will be part of the Every Kid in the Park program, which gives students access to any national park, public lands and waters in the U.S. for a full year. Up to six people will be allowed access to the park with the pass.

“This is wonderful,” Fields said. “I have students who have never been outside of Birmingham, so for them to have this their parents can take them to any national park and get in free. This is phenomenal; I would even want one of these.”

Fields said they have been trying to get field trips planned for the students to visit national parks.

“We are actually trying to create a farm at our school where they can go plant vegetables at our school, so this was fantastic for them to be able to come and plant flowers because now they can also plant other things in our farm,” Fields said. “They’re excited about it now, because they see what they will be doing in the farm.”

The initiative started almost six of years ago and when the First Lady sent out the call Birmingham was one of the first cities to sign on, according to Mayor Bell. A couple of years later President Obama asked the question to mayors throughout the country what could be done to get children to get outside more.

“It’s not just about how fast your thumb can move a console on a computer, but it’s about seeing nature for what it is,” the mayor said.