National Park Service takes students from the classroom to the Mississippi River

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ST. LOUIS – You can learn a lot about the Mississippi River inside the classroom but not as much as you can learn from being on the waterway itself. A National Park Service program called Paddle Your Park is giving more than 150 middle school students the chance to explore the river with a unique canoe experience.

Gateway Arch National Park rangers and Big Muddy Adventures are teaming up to lead the journey. Students paddle down the Mississippi in 29-foot voyageur canoes from North Riverfront Park to the steps of the Gateway Arch, all while learning about the history of river exploration.

On Wednesday afternoon, students from the College School in Webster Groves got their turn. There was a little nervousness at first, but once they got going, they were laughing, singing songs, and putting their classroom knowledge into practice.

“Very few people actually get to paddle the Mississippi River so this is a really exciting time for them,” said Gateway Arch National Park Ranger Erin Hilligoss-Volkmann. “They get to just be there, hands-on experience and  think about what it would have been like to be an explorer during this time.”

Middle school teacher Heather Walka with the College School Webster Groves said: “They’re able to see not only that they can do physical things like canoe but what are the takeaways from that — like teamwork and perseverance, and overcoming challenges.”

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