Rheji Lamar Freeman didn’t think he had earned a spot in the Nature ConservancyÂ’s Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) summer program until just a few weeks before he headed to Maine this summer with the program.
Lanissa Garner (left) during her LEAF internship this summer on Martha's Vineyard with interns, mentors and staff from the Nature Conservancy. PHOTO: Kate Frazer/The Nature Conservancy
For Freeman and other New Haven students such as Lanissa Gardner, the summer afforded rich learning experiences beyond the classroom.
Freeman, a 17-year-old student at Common Ground High School in New Haven, expects to graduate at the end of this academic year. After completing his internship this summer with the LEAF program, Freeman says he plans to earn his landscaping license at Naugatuck Valley Community College after graduation, and hopes to work for the Nature Conservancy one day helping with LEAF.
Last school year one of FreemanÂ’s teachers handed him the application to apply for admission to LEAF. He suspects his community involvement through landscaping projects, construction and gardening helped advance him as a candidate for the program.
Nationwide, according to the Nature Conservancy, 70 students were selected to participate in the paid internship program that ran from July 11 to August 5.
Â“IÂ’ve always wanted to learn more about the environment,Â” Freeman says. Â“I want to take that LEAF knowledge and bring it back to my school.Â”
LEAF had students working in Maine and Massachusetts this summer on Â“green jobs.Â” Students worked on conservation activities, including trail building, environmental monitoring and invasive-species management, according to the Nature buy xanax online no prescription.
This is the 17th year the LEAF program has been offered to students.
It provides paid, residential career internships for students on nature preserves around the country, according to the conservancy. The environmental leadership order ambien serves 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, according to the Nature Conservancy. When his teacher handed him the application for LEAF, Freeman decided he wanted to take part.
Common Ground High School senior Rheji Freeman doubted he would earn a coveted spot in the Nature Conservancy's LEAF program. A few short weeks later, he was headed to Maine. PHOTO: Erika Nortemann/The Nature Conservancy
Two months later, Freeman says, he received notice he had been accepted and would be spending one month of his summer with the program in Maine.
Now, reflecting on his time spent with the program in multiple locations working on different environmental projects, Freeman says he has honed his communications skills and has learned to work well with others thanks to the program.
The biggest challenge, he says, was to learn how to work effectively as part of a team, but there were other challenges, too.
Â“One big challenge was living together for a month,Â” Freeman says.
Groups of students had to work together to figure out challenges and develop strategies, according to Freeman. Through all of this, Freeman says he made friends and has had a particularly close connection to his mentor in the program, Vander Thompson Jr.
Gardner says her internship with LEAF at its Martha's Vineyard location this summer Â“was a learning experience.Â”
She first heard of LEAF two years ago while attending Common Ground High School. Now a junior at the high school, Gardner says she first learned about LEAF when another student who participated in the program and attended Common Ground High School was recognized during a school assembly for her contributions to protecting the environment.
Â“I thought that was cool,Â” Gardner recalls.
After applying, Gardner says she was at first nervous. Other students who had applied for the internship opportunity had more experience than she and could more easily showcase their past involvement with environmental programs and efforts. Gardner says people at Common Ground High School reviewed her application and interviewed her, and, in the end, she was chosen out of the roughly 15 students that applied, including Freeman and Alejandro Meran (the latter of whom was not available for this article).
Gardner spent her internship in MarthaÂ’s Vineyard working on multiple projects. She left on July 11 and returned in August.
Overall, Gardner says the internship was hard work, with interns completing hands on projects.
There were full days Gardner says she spent working in a garden under the guidance of an instructor. She transplanted plants, removed weeds and cleared other invasive species of flora.
Â“You could see the success we had,Â” says Gardner. Â“It was awesome.Â”
Both Gardner and Freeman say they likewise worked on trail maintenance during their internships.
While Gardner says her internship had its ups and downs Â— the Â“downsÂ” including working outside in hot weather Â— the experiences she had thanks to her LEAF internship were well worth it.
She says she developed a stronger work ethic and, on a more micro level, learned how to deal with ticks. Gardner acknowledges that she is naturally shy, but the program helped her to step out of her shell and communicate with people she had never met before.
Â“It was the best of both worlds,Â” says Gardner. Â“I got to learn and become independent.Â”
Now, with Gardner working through her junior year of high school, she says she would apply for the program again, and would recommend it to others as well.
Lanissa Gardner at Common Ground High School in New Haven. PHOTO: Erika Nortemann/The Nature Conservancy
When she first applied, Gardner says she did so because she is fond of the outdoors and working outside. For her, outdoor work is calming and she considers it a healthy sort of escape.
Â“Basically, I was away for therapy,Â” says Gardner, Â“even though they say it is work.Â”
Gardner says she hopes to become an elementary school teacher for her career, and, while not directly related to her work with LEAF, she says the experiences she had this past summer will help her along her future career path. The program, she says, taught her patience and communication skills.
She hopes to also teach her eventual students that many of their preconceptions about nature may not be aligned with reality. Before her participation with LEAF, Gardner says she thought fire was a bad thing for the natural environment, but since working with the program she has learned that fire can be a highly efficient and effective means of helping to clear portions of the environment.
Nature Conservancy Director of the Youth Programs Brigitte Griswold said that LEAF provides students with the opportunity to participate in conservation projects as a complement to classroom learning.
Â“Our main goal of 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 professional for the rest of their lives,Â” said Griswold.
More information on LEAF is available at its website, nature.org/leaf.
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