Currently on display at the Frick Environmental Center is a public exhibit featuring this year's Young Naturalists. The exhibit, which runs until spring 2019, highlights the experiences of the 10 high school students that went through this unique five-week program.
Through the program, these inquisitive students -- all previous High School Urban EcoStewards who applied to be Young Naturalists -- learned about park ecosystems and took part in rigorous park restoration. From meeting scientists at Powdermill Nature Reserve to restoring hillsides in Frick Park, these students gained valuable insight into environmental careers while also taking care of their parks.
What may be subtle in this exhibit, but is important to highlight, is the leadership experience that students gain through this program. We often hear that kids are the future and that they can make an impact. But behind the scenes, it's crucial to have people who support young minds and appreciate their abilities to change our world. Seeing the exhibit reminded me, a Young Naturalist alumna myself, how much of an impact students have left on our parks and how important it is for them to keep going.
When I was fifteen, I had never heard of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy or their work. When two Parks Conservancy staffers came to my to talk about the High School Urban EcoStewards (HSUES) program, I did not care to hear about it. However, I signed up anyway because it would be a good opportunity to get out of class. I didn't think that I would be chosen, and would have to endure the horrendous days of math class. Then I received the email -- I was chosen to be an EcoSteward!
After my first few visits to the parks, I found that I was genuinely interested in nature and wanted to continue learning about the environment. All of this was made possible by my Parks Conservancy mentors, Patty, Bailey, Taiji, and Marijke.
When the program ended, I got a feeling that something else was in store for me. I could not believe for a second that this program allows teenagers to find something to get interested in and then suddenly there is nothing left for them to do. Luckily, in fall 2013 I was able to be a leader for an HSUES class. I guided them in building check dams, carrying tools, and understanding basic plant and animal behavior.
Looking back at all of the work that we had done, I realized that we had accomplished a lot! I knew that there had to be more that could be done. Would that really be the end of my environmental experience? No, it was not.
In summer 2014, the Young Naturalist program was formed, and I was part of the first class. This program is designed for students who have a real appreciation for the parks and want to continue learning. This program allows students to be engaged with the environment and learn how to think critically - necessary tools that will always be used in life.
Now, as a Young Naturalist alumna, I look back at this program and think about how hard work and potential has allowed me to make an impact on people and our local parks.
Geneva Kenney is currently a Marketing Associate with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy pursuing a degree in Communications and Rhetoric at Pitt