A key piece of the work of Families in Nature is fostering the next generation of conservationists and creating equitable access to nature. A love of nature is the foundation of all of conservation. Once a child falls in love with and forms a connection to nature, they begin their path to becoming a young conservation leader.
Leadership starts during childhood
Families in Nature includes youth of all ages together in a family setting. We utilize the family unit as a tool in our programming by empowering our youth participants to become leaders, educators, and volunteers during our adventures in nature. One of the benefits to following the curiosity of children during our lessons is that children are given the time and encouragement to develop a deep knowledge of what peeks their interests. Even young children in our program become experts on subjects such as birds, insects, marine life, weather, dinosaurs, and rocks. When our guides see children developing knowledge and passion for a particular subject, they give them opportunities to teach the others about their subject. This peer-to-peer learning, and the opportunity for a child or teen to teach a group of children and adults is empowering and inspiring. There is nothing quite as motivating as learning about blue jays from a passionate nine-year-old
Leadership is a core piece of our program
The Ecologist School Guidebook, which serves as the basis for all of our programming, includes a “leadership” section in each of the 16 branches of science with activities to develop youth leadership. These include projects intended to be lead by the youth participant such as teaching a lesson, starting a backyard or schoolyard wildlife habitat or organizing a creek clean up.
Youth Leaders are mutually beneficial to the organization
Our youth leaders are an incredible asset during our activities and to the organization as a whole. We provide opportunities for junior internships to high school students and senior internships to college and graduate students. In addition to taking on these career opportunities, our teen participants have created videos for grant reports and photographed our adventures for social media and storytelling. FIN youth created an informational video about FIN for our website, filming, interviewing, editing and even composing and playing the music. FIN youth leaders build up a substantial resume of experiences and skills as they participate in our program through the years. They are leaders, educators, volunteers, and experts in the eyes of the community and of our participants, which gives them confidence and competence that will carry them into adulthood.
FIN participants also build up a broad knowledge and exposure to future career opportunities. In Central Texas, FIN utilizes community partners for many of our activities, such as banding birds with Texas Parks and Wildlife, counting monarch eggs with Texas Master Naturalists, releasing weather balloons to measure air quality with St. Edward’s University, and measuring water quality with the City of Austin’s Watershed Department. Our students participate in community science, contribute to research projects, and learn valuable skills that will be useful in their continued education and in choosing a future career. They graduate from Families in Nature empowered as leaders with a deep knowledge of science based in personal experience.
Mentoring Young Conservation Leaders
In addition to leadership empowerment and career exposure, FIN youth are given significant mentoring. During their final project, the Humboldt Project, FIN youth are given one-on-one mentoring from FIN staff or community leaders who are experts in their topic. Their projects are focused on an issue to which they are passionate about finding a solution. Connecting their passion to an expert mentor, then having their youth voices lifted up by FIN, can create far reaching impacts for the student and the larger community.
Our first Humboldt Award went to a former FIN Junior Intern, Isabelle Galko, age 17, for her creation of a short film communicating the dangerous impact of chemical sunscreen on coral health. Isabelle researched, interviewed scientists, and filmed underwater to create the video, which positively impacted the community. Her work earned her a highly competitive acceptance to the Our Oceans Youth Leadership Summit 2018 in Bali where she received leadership lessons and knowledge from world leaders and celebrated ocean conservationists. Since then, many more students have completed their Humboldt Projects to become Certified Junior Ecologists. Their stories and projects can be found on our blog. The knowledge gained during FIN’s experiential, open-ended science lessons, combined with the leadership developed over time, and paired with mentoring by FIN staff and volunteers, culminates in enormous possibilities for impact in the community now and in the future. Families in Nature is fostering the next generation of conservationists.