Expanding Boundaries in Environmental Education

Expanding Boundaries in Environmental Education

Submitted by Natasha Lekach on December 9, 2019 – 1:00pm

For much of my career I seem to have bypassed working with high school-aged students. This wasn’t intentional on my part, it just kind of happened. I starting working with elementary school-aged kids and jumped to adults. So, when planning began for the Conservation Science Intensive (CSI), ACR’s summer program for high school-aged young women, I was both nervous and eager for this new opportunity.

Yet, I was not alone in my new undertaking. CSI is built on the foundation of collaborative female leadership. Jacqueline Levy, Education Program Manager at the Bouverie Preserve, has 11 years of teaching high schoolers under her belt and Julianne Bradbury, Resource Ecologist at the Modini Preserve, co-led CSI in 2018 and spent many years as an educator across age levels. With our collective knowledge and experience, we partnered with other ACR staff and organizations like the National Park Service, Point Blue Conservation Science and U.S. Fish and Wildlife, to plan and execute a program where participants built a connection to themselves, each other and conservation while learning from and engaging with the land.

Though the program is named “Conservation Science Intensive,” conservation science is not defined at the outset. Each day, for a week, participants explored new topics related to conservation: natural history, wildlife monitoring, communication, fire ecology, restoration ecology, long-term monitoring, geographic information systems, conservation easements and more. We threaded these topics together, guiding participants towards recognizing that it is this thread that defines conservation science. During our final campfire on Thursday night, we proposed the question, “Based on your experience during these last four days, what do you believe conservation science to be?” Participants offered more depth and nuance in their answers than any definition could provide. Their hands-on experience analyzing land use history, exploring partnerships, practicing communication, and conversing with program leaders and each other informed their understanding of this complicated but important science and their need to be a part of it.

Just like the participants’ definitions of conservation science grew through hands-on experience, as environmental educators, each group we work with further informs our connection to the land, to students and to ourselves. By sharing a week with these girls, I was reminded of that truth. After leading and participating in the program, I am no longer nervous, I am simply excited to grow, build and learn in future years of CSI.


Applications are being accepted for the 2020 Conservation Science Intensive, July 20–24, 2020. Apply here: https://egret.org/csi

Hightlights of the 2019 Conservation Science Intensive:

20 young women spent a week in residence at Martin Griffin Preserve in Stinson Beach for ACR’s 4th annual Conservation Science Intensive. Each day was an immersive experience in conservation action, feeding mind, body and soul. They were introduced to the complexity of land management at a restored dune where they conducted plant transects. At a sustainable dairy farm they learned how methane digesters reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses enter the atmosphere while supplying electrify to run the farm. Sasha Berleman, director of ACR’s program Fire Forward, taught them how to calculate fuel loads in the forest and wowed them with a fire tornado demonstration. With Ecologist/GIS Specialist Emi Condeso, participants used GIS mapping tools to map their own origins, as a means of showing them how mapping is used in conservation science. Throughout the week, they were nourished by locally sourced produce prepared to showcase the world’s cuisines, sans meat. The program ended the week with biological illustration; participants took away both their artwork and memories of a week that exposed them to grounding concepts of conservation science as well as meaningful conversations with women who have built ecologically sustainable careers.