You just had your 8th birthday, and finally you’re old enough to join this after-school program called Environmental Learning for Kids, or ELK, with your older brothers and sisters. They do all these cool things, like go on camping trips and sleep overnight at the Zoo. On your first Saturday trip, ELK takes you to a lake and teaches you how to fish, and you catch your very first fish, all by yourself! You learn all about the parts of a fish’s body, what it likes to eat, what predators are, and why fish need clean water to survive. The ELK teachers tell you that when you grow up, you can be an aquatic biologist and learn all of this everyday – and get paid for it! Wow! But you learn that you have to go to college to do this, and you resolve to study hard every day so that you can become an aquatic biologist just like the adults at ELK.
Who knows where this child would have ended up if she had not had that first formative experience? What we do know is that statistics tell a certain story of this student’s future. About 50% of low-income, African-American and Latino students in Denver do not graduate from high school, and most of our students’ parents have not attended college. Over 80% of our ELK families cannot afford these same outdoor activities that many of us who live in Colorado take for granted. The most recent statistics from the National Science Foundation (2011) show that 3% of our nation’s scientists and engineers are African-American; 4% are Latino. This means those opportunities and experiences are few and far between.
Jump forward 10 years, and you are ready to graduate high school. ELK has been with you the entire way, making sure you stay on track in school and life. At this point you’ve taught aquatic ecology and conservation to thousands of Denver school kids, you’ve hiked and camped in most of the parks and forests in Colorado, and science and math are your favorite subjects. You’ve also gotten the opportunity to speak in front of local politicians, become a mentor to a younger student, and research climate change impacts in your neighborhood. With ELK’s help, you earned a scholarship to Colorado State University, and you plan on majoring in biology and environmental studies.
There are so many ways to connect youth with the environment and show them all the opportunities for their future. For Environmental Learning for Kids, we’ve found that fishing, in addition to camping, hiking, and wildlife tracking, are useful tools to engage kids of all ages in lessons of science, conservation, and careers. Each experience is as promising as the next to motivate our youth to stay in school, graduate, and go to college. We use these activities as not only educational opportunities in and of themselves, but also to connect to the importance of academic success in their lives. We want our youth to grow up with the dream that they can one day be our most important protectors of our environment and natural resources.
Did you have a formative outdoor experience as a child that led you to where you are now? Let’s hear about it!
Reposted from the Alliance for Sustainable Colorado’s blog.