Planning for the Future Starts Today

The Nature Conservancy Brings Students from around the Country to West Virginia Preserves for Summer Internships

ELKINS, WV | July 28, 2011

A trio of teenagers from New York City high schools are spending two weeks in the wilds of West Virginia, working to improve the Mountain State’s nature as part of a summer internship sponsored by The Nature Conservancy.

The three 17-year-olds are participating in the Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) program, whose mission is to engage urban youth in conservation activities now so that they will become stewards for our planet tomorrow. The students, many of whom have never spent time out of their city let alone one-on-one with snakes and salamanders, will participate in a paid internship program from July 11 through August 5.

The three 17-year-olds – Briani Boyd, Melanie Cruz, and Christina Smythe – are students of high schools in New York City that focus on environmental education. Boyd and Cruz attend the High School for Environmental Studies in Manhattan; Smythe the Brooklyn Academy of Science and the Environment. They are accompanied by mentor Debra Sinclair, a teacher from Queens.

The three students and their mentor are focusing their efforts in the Central Appalachian Mountains, the rugged, high-elevation range that spans six states and forms West Virginia’s eastern border. Before coming to West Virginia for two weeks, the three students and their mentor spent one week each at the Conservancy’s nature preserves in Virginia and Maryland.

During the last week of July, the team braved excessive heat to combat Japanese stiltgrass on the Conservancy’s Ice Mountain Preserve in Hampshire County. Stiltgrass, a native plant of Asia, threatens to crowd out the rare native vegetation at Ice Mountain. The team used gasoline-powered brush cutters to remove the weed.

“They are eager to learn, and willing to try anything,” said Mike Powell, the Conservancy land steward who is directing the team’s work. “It’s really satisfying to see that.”

The week of August 1, the team heads to the Smoke Hole canyon near Petersburg, WV, where they will work to restore rare prairie habitat.

This is the 17th year of the LEAF program, which 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. From the rocky coasts of Maine to the longleaf pine forests of Georgia, students participating in the LEAF program will train for green jobs and enhance their classroom education by participating in conservation activities.

This comprehensive, environmental leadership program for teenagers and their educators now serves approximately 20,000 students attending multicultural environmental high schools in urban areas including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Georgia. With the assistance of a $3.1 million grant from the Toyota USA Foundation, the program will also add new schools in California, Illinois and Massachusetts by 2012.

“Our main goal for the LEAF program is to engage urban youth with environmental learning at a young age in hopes of fostering a passion for our planet that will stick with them both personally and professionally for the rest of their lives,” said Brigitte Griswold, director of Youth Programs for The Nature Conservancy.  “Providing students with the opportunity to participate in actual conservation projects on preserves such as Ice Mountain and Smoke Hole is a great complement to their classroom learning and gives them hands-on experience they may not otherwise get during the school year.”

Learn more about the students that LEAF serves, the Toyota USA Foundation and about this unique partnership model at

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at

Contact information

Randy Edwards
Senior Media Relations Manager
(614) 339-8110 (phone)
(703) 407-9316 (cell)

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