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Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument receives grant for field trips for local fourth graders

A young girl contemplates Rosa Parks at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Students attending free field trip programming will have the opportunity to visit the award-winning, Smithsonian-affiliated museum. Junior Ranger book activities will encourage visitors near and far to engage interactively with the exhibits. (contributed)

Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument recently received a grant for a program aimed at fourth graders in Birmingham and Jefferson County. Awarded by the National Park Foundation, the Open Outdoors for Kids grant will fund development of curriculum-based programming that includes free bus transportation to and free entry at affiliated sites. The program begins officially Friday, Feb. 11.

“We’re excited about the opportunity this grant provides to kick off our educational programming,” said Kathryn (Kat) Gardiner, park ranger at the National Monument. “It is based on a unique collaborative partnership that is fundamental to everything we do.”

The partnership includes the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) and three churches that were instrumental in the local civil rights movement: 16th Street Baptist ChurchSt. Paul United Methodist Church and Bethel Baptist Church, which was pastored by the leader of the Birmingham movement, the Rev. Fred ShuttlesworthUrban Impact will manage the billing process, and the Alabama African American Civil Rights Heritage Sites Consortium will assist with program development and delivery.

Programming funded by the grant focuses on connecting students at Title I schools in Birmingham and Jefferson County, with the end goal of providing field trips for 1,500 students. The field trip will consist of visits to the BCRI, the adjacent Kelly Ingram Park – the site of civil rights demonstrations in the climactic year of 1963 – and one of the three partnering churches.

“In addition to the curriculum, the partnership will provide students with an incredible oral history experience,” Gardiner said. “For instance, St. Paul has two members who were children at the time of the civil rights movement, and they will be participating in the program.”

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National Monument staff has also compiled a Student Guide and corresponding Teacher Guide that will be provided prior to the in-person field trip to help orient participants. After the field trip, participating students will be “sworn in” as junior park rangers. All fourth graders are granted free admission to other national parks, monuments and sites across the nation through a national initiative called Every Kid Outdoors – yet another aspect of the field trip curriculum that adds value for Birmingham-area students and increases interest from visitors.

“We expect that to be huge,” said Gardiner. “Junior rangers collect patches from visiting parks all over the country, so it adds to our attractiveness to tourists.”

Gardiner said a primary goal of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument is helping increase awareness of all civil rights history in the area. While the pandemic has hampered that effort, she expects the proximity to related sites and organizations to be a major factor in the monument’s future.

“There are so many points of intersection with Birmingham’s civil rights history,” Gardiner said. “We want to lift up other historical points of interest and find opportunities to join in presenting the whole story of what happened in Birmingham.”

The Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument was created in 2017 to commemorate the nonviolent struggle to dismantle racial segregation and discrimination in Birmingham during the 1950s and 1960s. For more information, or to reserve a spot in upcoming tours, email kathryn_gardiner@nps.gov or call 205-568-3963.