What did you do during your high school summers? Maybe baby-sitting, waiting tables at a local restaurant or working in a store? What if you would have had the chance to live, work and play on a nature preserve, spending four weeks learning about the environment?
That's just what interns in The Nature Conservancy's Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) program get to do. For 21 years, this immersive program has gotten students from environmental high schools out of their comfort zone and into the wild.
“We can’t assume that kids today are chasing fireflies or playing in the snow,” said Brigitte Griswold, director of youth programs for The Nature Conservancy. “If we value clean air and water, parks and wild places for recreation and the many benefits we get from protecting our natural resources, we have to actively cultivate the next generation of people who will care for our world.”
This year, 15 students from Arabia Mountain High, an environmentally-focused public school in suburban DeKalb County, Georgia, are part of this year’s LEAF class.
Packing plenty of bug spray and sturdy boots, these lucky kids are setting off in July for a grand adventure:
- One young man is traveling to Colorado where he will work with four interns from Colorado to clear trails at Carpenter Ranch, work in a national forest and help out with amphibian surveys.
- Four young women are going to Oklahoma to explore unique habitats and learn about a wide range of conservation careers.
- Four young women will be working in Kentucky, experiencing the region's cave ecosystems and helping staff with urban conservation projects; they will be joined by two young women from Los Angeles, California.
- Six young men are staying here in Georgia. They will help with trail maintenance at Moody Forest near Baxley and learn about oyster reef restoration on the Georgia coast.
About the LEAF Program
The LEAF program is designed to engage urban youth in conservation activities now so that they will become leaders and stewards for our planet tomorrow. The program also supports teachers at partner environmental high schools by providing professional development.
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.
More than 34 percent of LEAF alumni go on to pursue professional paths in environmental fields, and more than 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 25 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.