Tuesday, February 25, 2020
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LEAF internships bring city students to nature

Three students from Fern Creek High School in Louisville, Kentucky, where they get very little experience in the outdoors, are spending some time in the Virginia mountains as interns this summer with the Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future program, or LEAF, the Roanoke Times reports.

A firefighter monitors a controlled burn at a wildlife refuge in Fairbanks, Alaska, May 2015. (lippyjr/iStock)

The LEAF program works to grow the next generation of conservation leaders by providing paid summer internships for students in nature across the nation each July. The program has had a tremendous impact on youth, opening their eyes to career possibilities, building self-confidence, work skills, and conservation literacy.

This is the 22nd year of the LEAF program working to engage youth from urban communities in conservation activities today, so that they will become stewards for our planet tomorrow. Since 1995, LEAF has expanded from one to 28 participating states, and over 1,000 young people have participated.

Two of the three interns told the paper their favorite day in the program so far was when the group visited Shenandoah National Park to measure new growth in an area that underwent a prescribed burn, or a controlled wildfire, 10 years ago.

Conservationists say controlled burns are necessary to maintain the forests and to prevent more out-of-control wildfires from spreading.

“I want to be able to understand what it takes to take care of nature and be able to help other people my age understand it,” one intern was quoted as saying. “I want to be able to go back home and take care of my environment.”

According to the Nature Conservancy, LEAF interns have gone on in life based on their passion for conservation. They work as national park rangers, environmental engineers, environmental science teachers, and in other environmental careers.

And they do this at rates much higher than the rates for other students who grew up in urban school systems. In addition, many former interns engage in environmental conservation efforts in their communities, even if they pursue careers in other fields.

A shooting occurred at Fern Creek High School in September 2014: An argument in the school’s hallway between classes led one student to fire a gun at a classmate. His bullet missed the intended target and instead hit another student in the stomach, who recovered and returned to school within a few months. The shooter was charged with assorted felonies and misdemeanors, the most serious of which was first-degree assault.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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