Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) is The Nature Conservancy’s paid summer internship program. The goal of the program is to expose urban youth to conservation careers at a young age so that they will become future stewards for our planet.
For the first time ever, this program came to the West Coast, and 10 students from Los Angeles’ Environmental Charter High School (ECHS) earned a spot and spent their summer at two of our nature preserves.
During the course of their internship, the students teamed up with Conservancy experts to protect and restore habitat, save endangered species and remove non-native plants while learning about careers in conservation. In addition to completing four paid work weeks, the interns also took part in recreational activities such as camping, kayaking, hiking and swimming.
Seven girls spent their summer on Santa Cruz Island, the largest of California’s eight Channel Islands, working alongside our conservation experts on various projects like stream sampling, seed collection, beach cleanup and monitoring the island fox.
Three boys traveled to Montana's Centennial Valley, part of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, where they worked on projects to restore native streams, reduce the danger of wildfire, and make fences more friendly for wildlife such as pronghorn, grizzly bears and greater sage-grouse.
Providing students with the opportunity to participate in actual conservation projects in ecologically sensitive places like Santa Cruz Island and the Centennial Valley is a great complement to their classroom learning and gives them hands-on experience they may not otherwise get during the school year.
History of ECHS
Environmental Charter High School (ECHS) was formed in 1999 by a group of parents, educators, businesses and non-profits to meet the educational challenge in the community of Lawndale, California.
This award-winning network of free public schools in under-served communities of south LA prepares students for four-year colleges through a focus on experiential learning and by using the environment as a way to both engage students in project-based learning and prepare them to become leaders in their communities.
About the LEAF Program
This is the 18th year of the LEAF program, whose mission is to engage urban youth in conservation activities now so that they will become stewards for our planet tomorrow. The program provides paid residential career internships for students on nature preserves around the country and enriches these experiences in the classroom by providing professional development opportunities to educators from partner high schools.
Students apply and compete for this life-changing work and educational experience, which is designed to enhance classroom knowledge while exposing students to careers in the emerging green economy. Participating schools have been recognized by the Department of Education as schools that save energy, reduce costs and exemplify environmentally sustainable learning spaces and educational programs to boost academic achievement and community engagement.
The LEAF experience has influenced its alumni to go from the comfortable life of their city block to pursue projects in the Amazon rainforest, hike the world’s highest peaks and find careers in sustainable urban planning—all things that would never have been thought possible without their eye-opening internship with this program.
Over 34 percent of LEAF alumni go on to pursue professional paths in environmental fields, and over 50 percent go on to volunteer for environmental causes in their communities.
This comprehensive environmental-leadership program for teenagers and their educators now serves approximately 20 environmental high schools in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Washington, Connecticut and Georgia.
Learn more about the students that LEAF serves, the Toyota USA Foundation—the program’s lead supporter—and this unique partnership model.