Environmental Learning for Kids: A Day of Reflection and Service

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As Martin Luther King Jr. Day approaches and the Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK) team prepares for its annual Day of Service project, a famous quote by the national icon of the Civil Rights Movement, and namesake of this Holiday honoring his commitment to equality and serving others, comes to mind: “We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.” Environmental Learning for Kids serves to uphold this truth to be self-evident in every youth that we inspire to apply for that college that they didn’t think was an option, educate through a science program that might awaken a passion for the subject, and transform by endowing them with increased academic skills, community leadership and employment opportunities.

ELK youth celebrated many accomplishments in 2013. Eleven ELK seniors received their diplomas, thousands of youth were engaged in outdoor recreation and science education, and six ELK students were employed as the nation’s first ever Urban Rangers, a program in partnership with the National Park Service and Denver Parks and Recreation that provided significant hands-on career exploration while simultaneously helping to introduce hundreds of additional urban youth to the outdoors.

One 2013 youth story stands out to us as an inspirational reminder of our efforts and perseverance.  In 2009, an ever-friendly and polite young man by the name of Christopher Urias was just beginning his high school career as a freshman at Montbello High School.  Though incredibly eager and bright, and with an early interest in science, the uphill battle he was facing was impossible to ignore.  While still a history-rich symbol of pride within the Montbello community, Montbello High School had already long-since been deemed a chronically failing school with an average Movoto School Ranking of F, placing it within the 95th percentile as compared to all other high schools within the state. Additionally, as a Latino male with aspirations of a career in science, it’s safe to say that the amount of diversity (or lack thereof) in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) career fields were not in his favor.  According to the United States Census Bureau, only 6.5% of the United States STEM workforce is made up by Latino’s (a figure that mirrors the statistics of African Americans).

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But Christopher Urias’s hard work ethic and high expectations for himself refused to let numbers or statistics deter his dreams. Instead, 2009 also marked the year Chris joined ELK. Chris notes that participation in activities such as camping, fishing, and learning wildlife biology are simply experiences that “the average student in Montbello doesn’t get to do.”  As a consistent member of ELK’s Leadership Corps, a program designed to help high school students develop leadership skills and navigate the college and scholarship application process, he also says that “ELK inspired me to chase after my dream of becoming an astronaut. The support from everyone is amazing!” Christopher Urias is now a freshman at the University of Colorado Boulder studying Aerospace Engineering and Astrophysics. We wish him all of the luck in the world –to the moon and back!

We believe that stories like Christopher’s should be the norm, as opposed to the exception. Environmental Learning for Kids is more than willing to do its part – in fact, our inherent values rest upon it.  But the lack of diversity in the STEM fields is an issue, if not a travesty, that our nation must unitedly face in order to create real change.  Martin Luther King Jr. also said “It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment”.  Our eyes are wide open – can we count you in?

In honor of the great Martin Luther King Jr., ELK will be participating in its annual Day of Service on on January 20th, 2014 at Heron Pond from 9 am to 12 pm. .  Please contact Kristina Opre at kopre@elkkids.org or 303-291-7502 to join us or contribute to this ELK program.

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