LEAF Students in Action
Meet the teens and hear about their life-changing summer.
- Kelvin Payton
Arizona is making a big impression on young students trading their summer break for hard work.
“I’m in awe of this place. It’s huge,” says 18-year-old Cliff Price. Fellow student Kelvin Payton agrees. “Arizona is big. There’s a lot of space. It’s amazing.”
Kelvin and Cliff are among four New Haven, Connecticut high school students spending their summer break in the Verde Valley, 70 miles north of Phoenix, doing conservation work.
They’re part of The Nature Conservancy’s Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future program, also known as LEAF. The students learn and work with conservation experts on things like tracking and removing invasive weeds, repairing fences and maintaining trails.
The work in Arizona focused on the Verde River, a critical source of water for people, businesses, agriculture and wildlife.
Mapping tamarisk, an invasive weed, was the primary task at hand for the students. Tamarisk plants hoard water and nutrients and can impact natural systems.
“It’s important to map the invasive weeds because they can damage the environment,” says Cliff. “By doing this we’ll know how much they’re taking over and how we can plan to get rid of them.”
Science isn’t all they’re soaking up this summer. They’re also learning life lessons, living on their own, shopping for groceries and cooking their meals. They also integrate themselves into this close-knit community.
“They’re out here collecting data, but they’re also a bridge to this community,” says Kim Schonek, the Conservancy’s Verde River Program Manager. “This is a way to get other people interested in the work we’re doing. It’s very exciting to have these teenagers here from far away working on our river and showing they really care.”
This life-changing work and educational experience is designed to enhance classroom knowledge while exposing students to careers in the emerging green economy.
Cliff appears to be heading in that direction. “I want to do something in nature whether it’s mapping invasive weeds like a forester does or maybe working for the Game and Fish Department where I can prevent poaching. As long as I’m with nature, I’ll be happy.”
Kelvin is heading in a different direction, but the LEAF influence is evident. “When I grow up I want to be a police officer. When I do, my plan is to make the police department more green.”
The students who participate in LEAF are enrolled in environmental high schools in urban areas. For many of them, this is the first time outside of the city and it’s refreshing.
“In this area I can hear more things like hummingbirds flying by,” says Cliff. “I can smell the trees and plants instead of gasoline and city smells.”
For Kelvin, this trip means clearing his head and getting focused. “I love nature because it’s a way to settle the mind and be one with the environment.”
For these city kids, nature relieves stress, helps you focus and is opening the door to a bright future.August 16, 2012
LEAF interns find a new world and help save it (Camp Verde Bugle)
LEAF program helps students prepare for jobs of the future (KTVK, Channel 3)