Helping Urban High School Students Become Environmental Leaders
After ten years working in environmental education, Stephanie Swaim had learned quite a few lessons from kids. But the lesson that helped keep her motivated as Tahoma Audubon Society’s Education Coordinator was this: kids have a deep, innate attraction to the natural world. From her experiences working in both southwest Florida and Pierce County, Washington, however, Stephanie knew something else – that kids in suburban and rural America received vastly different opportunities for nature-based experiences than their urban counterparts.
Having built a district-wide science education program for over 8,500 Florida middle-school students, as well as leading programs at nature centers around the country, Stephanie knew that nature-based education had enormous benefits for kids. The action-oriented programs that she taught to youth in Tacoma and University Place, Washington, were successful not only because of the high-quality, hands-on science education they offered, but because they helped kids build confidence, develop a sense of purpose, and share their passion and skills with their communities.
Like many environmental education programs, Tahoma Audubon Society’s “Osprey Club” successfully reached middle school-aged students in local school districts. As part of her Toyota TogetherGreen Conservation Fellowship, Stephanie expanded the reach of the Osprey Club to include the middle school-aged children of military families at Fort Lewis. Student participants volunteered their time to conservation, working on various ecology projects in their neighborhoods (including clean-up projects and wildlife study) and mentoring younger kids in elementary schools and daycares on base. Stephanie hoped to involve 50 students in the first year of the program with each of the Osprey Club participants completing 20 hours of volunteer service to conservation. Over the course of the year, those students emerged as exemplary environmental stewards in their schools and in their community – and, as a group, they donated 1,000 hours to conservation!