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Learning in the Parks

Connect Schools

Connect Local Schools With Local Parks

The Friends created an innovative program, "Learning in the Parks", to connect public school students with Hook Mountain and Nyack Beach State Park.  

Since 2018, thousands of public school students --- most of whom had never been to these parks --- have discovered what natural spaces have to offer.  Some were awed by the towering cliffs, amazed by the variety of fish in the Hudson River Estuary, or calmed by the concentration of using all of their senses to detect life in the woods. 

The value of connecting to nature and learning through hands-on, placed-based experiences is well established in educational and psychological literature.  The engagement and excitement expressed by students who have participated in Learning in the Parks speaks volumes.  As one student said: “It was the best trip out of all the trips from kindergarten to third grade!”  And teachers are equally enthusiastic: “The difference between the pre and post [student] assessment was true evidence of all the learning that took place on this trip! I hope Learning in the Parks is a yearly event for the fourth grade students.”     

2018 Launch

The Friends launched Learning in the Parks in 2018, bringing all fourth graders in the Nyack School District to Hook Mountain and Nyack Beach State Park to explore the special geology of the Palisades Sill, the unique ecosystem of the Hudson River Estuary, and local trailside ecology.  Science educators introduced the students to these local parks through hands-on activities that took place at the respective schools, followed by a trip to the parks where the fourth graders explored educational stations that showed students real-world science, stewardship, and how much fun it is to spend time outdoors.   


The Friends provided seed funding to pilot this initiative in 2018, with the goals of:

  • Demonstrating the value of the program;

  • Incorporating the program as a permanent component within the Nyack District STEM curriculum; and,

  • Expanding this experiential outdoor learning model to more public schools.

The pilot program was a huge hit with students, teachers, and administrators and was subsequently added to the district budget as an annual program.  

2020 - 2023 Expansion

In 2020, The Friends of Rockland Lake & Hook Mountain received a $45,000 grant to expand “Learning in the Parks” to more schools, including to all fourth graders of the South Orangetown School District! The Learning in the Parks expansion was supported with funding from the NYS Park and Trail Partnership Grants and New York’s Environmental Protection Fund.  Park and Trail Partnership Grants are administered by Parks & Trails New York, in partnership with the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

In 2021, the program was doubled in size to reach nearly 500 fourth graders per year.  

In 2022, The Friends of Rockland Lake & Hook Mountain was awarded a $68,000 matching grant from the Environmental Fund's Park and Trail Partnership Grants program to:

  • Bring additional 4th grade students to the parks for hands-on science and history learning;

  • Create a pilot mentor program for high school students; and,

  • Conduct a longitudinal study of past program participants to assess longer-term impact.

In 2023, The Friends of Rockland Lake & Hook Mountain was awarded a $100,000 matching grant from the Environmental Fund's Park and Trail Partnership Grants program to add new educational programs that will extend outreach to young people from groups currently underrepresented in these parks. 

The Friends of Rockland Lake & Hook Mountain continuously strives to strengthen and expand Learning in the Parks.  Please support our work. 

NOTE: In the fall of 2019, the Outdoor Science Alliance ("OSA") merged into the Friends of Rockland Lake & Hook Mountain to become the educational arm of our organization. 

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