Imagine if instead of spending your summer baby-sitting or waiting tables at a local restaurant, you 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 22 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, seven students from Arabia Mountain High, an environmentally-focused public school in suburban DeKalb County, Georgia, are part of the LEAF class.
Packing plenty of bug spray and sturdy boots, these lucky kids will set off in July for a grand adventure:
Four interns will travel to Florida with their mentor and work with our staff at The Disney Wilderness Preserve. Home to more than 1,000 species of plants and animals, the Preserve has become the centerpiece of the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area. Hopefully our LEAF Interns will have a chance to see the red-cockaded woodpeckers that are thriving in the restored longleaf pine habitat the Preserve provides.
Three interns will stay in Georgia but will explore a new part of the state and have a chance to visit our neighbors in Alabama. In Columbus, Georgia they will help conduct gopher tortoise surveys and work with our stewardship team around the Chattahoochee Fall Line. They will then begin their urban conservation training in Birmingham, Alabama, working at Pratts Ferry Preserve on the Cahaba River and helping students at Woodlawn High School learn about urban greenspace management before returning to Atlanta to work with partners like Trees Atlanta.
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.