Education Specialist Liza Stearns of Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site in Massachusetts is the recipient of the National Park Service’s 2011 Freeman Tilden Award for excellence in interpretation. Stearns was honored for creating the “Good Neighbors: Landscape Design and Community Building” program for local third-grade students.


Stearns received the award from National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis during the annual National Association for Interpretation workshop in St. Paul. “Liza’s program brings the story and work of Frederick Law Olmsted to life for school children,” said Jarvis. “Through hands-on experiences, the children obtain practical experience in landscape design and discover the important role of parks in society. It is a great example of the place-based learning opportunities available in national parks”


“Programs like Liza’s help connect people to parks every day. Sometimes you can literally see a transformation taking place. You know you are truly making a difference when one of the children in the program says, ‘this was the best field trip ever. Thank you for introducing me to my future profession.’”


The curriculum-based Good Neighbors program introduces students to landscape concepts and the opportunity to design their own landscapes. In pre-visit classroom activities, students learn about Frederick Law Olmsted and consider how landscape architecture affects their lives. During a park visit, the youth are taught how to read the landscape, draw plant specimens, and compare different design zones. They see how the selection and arrangement of landscape elements contribute to the look, feel, and function of place and use that knowledge to create a 3D landscape model. They also visit either a landscape design firm or Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace.


The program has been officially incorporated into Brookline’s third-grade curriculum, and the park is working with specialists from the Boston public schools to engage schools adjacent to Boston’s Emerald Necklace park system and those with student populations well-suited to the program’s “Whole Child” approach to teaching and learning. The Whole Child approach engages students in real-world learning, with active support from teachers, parents, and professionals in the community.


Collaboration was a key component of Good Neighbors’ development.  Teachers from the Brookline and Boston public schools, professionals from the Boston Society of Landscape Architects, park activists from the National Association for Olmsted Parks and interns from the Student Conservation Association have played substantial roles, and the Friends of Fairsted provided important support. This collaborative approach offers organizations nationwide with a replicable framework for creating interdisciplinary programming unique to their parks and communities.


Good Neighbors won the Boston Society of Landscape Architects’ 2011 Award of Excellence and was also featured in the August, 2011 edition of Landscape Architecture Magazine.


“Discovering that they can play a role in supporting public spaces is an empowering revelation for many of the children,” said Stearns. “They begin to imagine their own role in the care and stewardship of landscapes. The program’s transforming power can also be applied to many other aspects of their lives, helping them tap into other unexpected capabilities and opportunities.”


The Freeman Tilden Award is an annual award recognizing outstanding public contributions in interpretation and visitor services by a National Park Service employee. Freeman Tilden, who wrote The National Parks, What They Mean to You and Me and Interpreting Our Heritage, has had considerable influence on National Park Service Interpretation and education programs.

For more information, please visit http://www.nps.gov/aboutus/tildenaward.htm