high school

Camp Rocky… Rocks!

For the first time in my life I was surrounded by teenagers who were hungry, dirty, tired and loving every minute of it! At Camp Rocky there is no cell phone service, no texting, no television or electronic games; only nature, the instructors and kids getting their hands dirty working on environmental restoration projects. This camp is about teens engaged in real life application of environmental and natural resource management that benefits them, the communities, and the environment.

Campers at Camp RockyFor 48 years, the Camp Rocky Program has been providing hands-on work, leadership training, and instruction in related environmental career opportunities for teens ages 14-19. The Colorado Association of Conservation Districts (CACD), founded in 1945, co-hosts Camp Rocky. CACD represents 76 Conservation Districts statewide which provide over 32,000 volunteer hours annually. Through cooperation of environmental agencies and organizations, Camp Rocky provides an average of 70 teens each year with hands-on outdoor experiences, education, and career mentoring opportunities. Educational advancement occurs through instruction in five principles; water and soil conservation, fish and wildlife management, forest management, rangeland science, and recreation management. Students implement their work plans such as riparian area restoration projects and trail construction.

As I toured the completed environmental projects, I was amazed at how many students approached me asking if I had any questions about the work they had done. I was also very impressed by the pride of ownership the students and volunteers expressed about the service projects that had been completed over the years. Many students return each year to Camp Rocky to experience different courses or to mentor new students in the program. Not many programs have this kind of staying power. No doubt it is due to the dedicated volunteers and hard working teens! My visit to Camp Rocky was an uplifting and down to Earth experience at the same time!

About the author: Wendy Dew has been with EPA for 13 years and is the Environmental Education and Outreach Coordinator for Region 8.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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One Amazing Accomplishment from One Teenager

A colleague of mine suggested I read about a runner-up President’s Environmental Youth Award applicant named Jordyn. I started reading Jordyn’s application and thought to myself, “wow, she was a runner-up?”, she should be named the young environmentalist of the year!

After reading that 80% of waterways tested in 30 states had trace amounts of pharmaceuticals and hearing about “pharm parties,” where teens bring pills from home, mix them in a bowl, and blindly take a couple, Jordyn decided to take action! Jordyn, a freshman at the time, decided to create WI P2D2 (Prescription Pill and Drug Disposal) to educate her town about prescription-drug abuse and environmentally safe pill disposal.

JordynJordyn used some amazingly inventive communication tools to deliver her message including; a “Phil the Pill” costume, and a clear glass of water in which she placed pills and asked her audience if they would now like to take a drink. None of them did!

She secured a community drop-box for unwanted pills, used Facebook, YouTube, and T-shirts to get the word out, and persuaded local pharmacists and police officers to help.

Jordyn is the first teen to have written and been awarded state and local grants to secure funds for a drug collection event. At her first event, Jordyn collected an astonishing 440 pounds of drugs! Her accomplishments have been featured in numerous media outlets in both America and Canada.

Jordyn’s program is a perfect example of a multi-disiplinary solution to a multi-faceted local problem. If even a small percentage of the upcoming generations are as successful at improving their environment as Jordyn, I believe the environment will be in great hands. It strikes me that if a teenager can accomplish so much, as adult environmentalists we should follow her example, and never accept anything but complete success. Maybe we can convince her to work for EPA one day!

About the author: Wendy Dew has been with EPA for 13 years and is the Environmental Education and Outreach Coordinator for Region 8.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Local Kid Goes Global

It never ceases to amaze me every time I hear students speak about their community and environmental involvement, how incredible these kids are, and what a difference they have made in their communities. I want to share with you about one student’s amazing commitment to her community and the environment.

I first met Grace, a 14 year old high school student, when she spoke at our regional Earth Day celebration on April 22. Grace has been involved for several years with FrontRange Earth Force, a local community service organization and she recently represented the United States and her community in Brazil at an environmental conference for kids age 12-15!

EarthForceFrontRange Earth Force, in Denver, works with teachers in local schools and advisors in community organizations to bring hands-on, youth-driven learning to their students. They help these committed educators and advisors combine service to the community with classroom learning (“service-learning”) to better illustrate important academic, social and personal lessons to young people. Through FrontRange Earth Force, young people get hands-on, real-world opportunities to practice civic skills, acquire and understand environmental knowledge, and develop the skills and motivation to become life-long leaders in addressing environmental issues.

A couple of weeks ago, Grace traveled to Brasilia, Brazil to participate in the Children and Youth International Conference – Let’s Take Care of the Planet. The conference was sponsored by Brazil’s Ministry of Education so kids from all over the world could focus on global socio-environmental problems and climate change.

If anyone ever wants to see how successful community service programs are, all they have to do is meet a young woman like Grace whose experiences have benefitted her, her local community, her country and the world.

About the author: Wendy Dew has been with EPA for 13 years and is the Environmental Education and Outreach Coordinator for Region 8.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Making a Difference in Your Community Through Service

There you are, heading to school and you see something that practically screams, “People do not care about their environment.” Perhaps you notice there are cups and bottles along the route your school bus takes. Or, you go on a hike and see a stream with garbage dumped in it. Or you realize several students at your school live near you, but you all drive your own cars instead of carpooling.

This is an important moment. Will you act on what you notice, or ignore it and hope it changes by itself? Let’s hope you choose to act. But, what can one person really do? The answer to that question is: a great deal. One person can act alone or join with others to change the way things are.

After you decide to do something about a problem, find out why it is happening. You may have to talk to others – classmates, parents, teachers or community leaders – or do some research.

Once you understand the problem, the next step is figuring out how to get people to stop doing whatever is causing it. You’ll soon discover that people act according to what they know and think. If people think it’s OK to take their used car oil and pour it down a storm drain, that’s what they’ll do. But if they learn that oil can cause a water pollution problem, they may dispose of it properly, which is to take it to a service station.

Figure out how to teach people about what causes a problem and how to solve it. Who are you trying to get the word out to? What is the best way to reach that audience? This might be a project that needs more than one person. Get organized. Find out who can help and team up. You can form partnerships and work with others who will give you support or ideas. Get your team together, set up a timeline of when you are doing what. Then, go to work and get the project done.

As you read this, you may think: “Well, sure, it sounds simple, but doing something isn’t that easy.” True. But, following up on the decision to do something will help your community and develop your ability to act on what you think , plan ahead and lead others to accomplish a goal. Even if it is something you do by yourself, the results are the same.

Take that first step. Decide to solve that environmental problem. Once you take that first step, you’ll understand that you can make a difference.

For more information/ideas:

About the author: Terry Ippolito is the Environmental Education Coordinator for EPA’s region 2 office in New York. Terry came to EPA in 1988 after being a science teacher, grades 1 through high school, and school administrator. Her work at EPA enables her to combine experience in education with a commitment to the environment.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Under the Summer Sun – Be SunWise

EPA's SunWise program logoWith summer in full swing, it’s the perfect chance to be outside as much as possible. But you should be mindful of a few things before complete summer abandon takes over your life. When you’re spending so much time outside, it’s important to protect your skin against the harmful rays of the sun. You don’t want to grow up with lots of wrinkles or skin cancer because you keep getting tanned or sunburned! Here are a few great steps from the EPA’s SunWise site to keep you protected:

  • Seek Shade – even when you’re at the beach or playing soccer, take time to relax under a tree or bring a big beach umbrella.
  • Wear a Hat – a hat with a wide brim is a great way to protect your face and neck. You can also rock an eco-friendly hat too, like this one made out of recycled plastic grocery bags.
  • Wear Sunglasses – make sure they block all UV rays and feel free to find a pair made out of recycled plastic or sustainable wood like these:
  • Watch for the UV Index – it’s a forecast of how intense the sun’s rays will be. Use it to plan activities to prevent overexposure to the sun.
  • Avoid Sunlamps and Tanning Parlors – though it’s tempting to have a year round tan, this will continue to damage your skin. And this season, pale is in!
  • Always Apply Sunscreen – there are so many sun protection products for your face and body, you’ll be able to pick the right kind for you. Don’t forget to re-apply often.
  • Cover Up! – beach cover-ups and loose-fitting long sleeves are the best way to keep your skin protected and still keep cool.
  • Limit Time in the Midday Sun – between 10am and 4pm is when the sun is at its peak. This is the time when you need to keep all the above ideas in mind or stay out of the sun.

Since a trip to the beach is usually a given when making plans in the summer, and look up some of the fun beach cleanup activities or start your own World Water Monitoring Day if one hasn’t been started near you. These are just a few great ways to make sure that the water you play in is safe for everyone.

As always, the EPA High School (site is a great place to find all you need to know about these topics and more.

About the author: Kim Blair is currently an intern with Environmental Education and Indoor Air Programs in Region 5. She has an extensive environmental education background and is enjoying using her previous experience at the EPA. She has been working with the EE coordinator on facilitating grants and the Web Workgroup along with getting hands-on experience working on a geographic initiative in Northeast Indiana with the Indoor Air Programs.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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EPA’s Presidential Environmental Youth Awards Program

About the author: Megan Gavin currently works as the environmental education coordinator in the Chicago office of EPA. She started working at EPA just out of college as a volunteer and stayed on to become a paid intern and eventually a permanent employee. She is in charge of administering a grants program and a youth award program. She leads the environmental education web workgroup which oversees the design and content of the kids, students, high school and teachers web sites.

On May 11, 2009, I flew from Chicago, IL to Washington, DC to take part in the President’s Environmental Youth Award celebration. Winning students from across the country came to our nation’s capitol to be recognized for completing environmental projects. It was inspiring to see elementary, middle and high school students who have taken the initiative to get involved with an environmental issue that interests them. This year’s award winners were interested in the environment and instead of sitting back and watching others do something, they decided to get involved. Whether it was starting an anti smoking campaign or raising awareness about damage being done to rivers they got involved. One high school student from Nebraska went above and beyond a class assignment and hosted the largest recycling rally her community has ever seen. Another student addressed the challenges of using bio-ethanol and came up with a way to make it more practically used in commercial processes. Yet another winner persuaded his entire community to switch to energy efficient light bulbs. Many of the winners had to raise money and get support for their projects. Others were featured in stories in local and national newspapers and on the radio. It’s amazing to see the attention that kids can bring to an issue. The President’s Environmental Youth Award competition is offered every year and is open to kids in grades K-12. You can apply for a regional certificate or the regional award. If you apply for the regional award you need to tell us what the benefits of your project were. You also need to tell us what your goals were and if you were able to accomplish them. Many past winners started a project as a one time activity and had so much fun that they got their friends involved and work on it all year.  When I was in high school I remember volunteering at a nature center clearing buckthorn which is an invasive species. It was hard work but I felt good after I saw the big pile at the end. I didn’t know about the President’s Environmental Youth Award program.

Why don’t you tell us about some projects you completed that increase environmental awareness or community involvement? In addition to applying for EPA’s President’s Environmental Youth Award program, there are plenty of other environmental award programs too. Check them out at:epa.gov/highschool/awards.htm or epa.gov/peya.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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EnviroFacts/Window to my Environment

About the author: Kim Blair is currently an intern with Environmental Education and Indoor Air Programs in Region 5. She has an extensive environmental education background and is enjoying utilizing her previous experience at the EPA. She has been working with the EE coordinator on facilitating grants and the Web Workgroup along with getting hands on experience working on a geographic initiative in Northeast Indiana with the Indoor Air Programs.

When I was in high school I spent a lot of time doing research for different projects from history to chemistry. There was always some project that I was struggling to finish or striving to think of a way to make my research stand out to the teacher. Well, the EPA has a great tool to impress your teachers and to get information you didn’t think was even out there. It’s called EnviroFacts. Besides the flashy name – it’s ok to admit that you think it is a pretty cool name too – there are so many interactive things that this program can do. Visit http://www.epa.gov/enviro/ to get started exploring this newly updated program.

So what exactly is EnviroFacts? It’s a program that maps your area of choice with specific details about water quality, hazardous waste, air and land toxics, compliance issues and more. The tool is based on GIS (Geographic Information Systems) where data that is collected is input into a visual format like a map. You can customize what type of information you would like to display on your map or even map by topic instead of location to learn more about that issue. You can also share this site with your friends over Facebook, Stumbleupon and other social networks.

Here’s a sample of a map I looked up by zip code to get even more specific data displayed using the Enviromapper and Window to My Environment. I mapped the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago to see what kinds of environmental impacts are important to the area. You can modify your map according to your area of interest and find out a lot about that area besides just the hazardous waste sites. You can also obtain facility information for potential or current pollution issues.

Sample map and legend from GIS

The possibilities are endless as you explore your world on a different level. This resource can be used for school or for your own personal interests. Maybe it could lead to community service projects based on the pollution issues in your area or a great visual for a class project. You can also take a look at the Community Service Projects page on EPA’s High School Website or just see the resources out there for you to use.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Teens have the Power!

About the author: Amanda Sweda joined EPA’s Office of Environmental Information in 2001 and develops policy development for Web related issues and serves on the Environmental Education Web Workgroup. Amanda is a former Social Studies and Deaf Education teacher and is married to a math teacher so education is an important topic in their home.

image of author sitting on a rockRecently my dad and stepmom came to visit me and told me about the new house they bought. My dad told me about what they are doing to the house to get ready for moving in – painting, new appliances, and some remodeling. I asked my dad if he had bought Energy Star kitchen appliances and the blank look on his face said it all – he didn’t know. I was disappointed that I had missed an opportunity to help my parents make environmental decisions appropriate for them and potentially save a lot of money on their electricity bills, water consumption, etc. over the years.

My dad didn’t talk to me about any of these decisions probably because I don’t live at home anymore (and haven’t for a long time). This is not to say that my dad wouldn’t have appreciated the advice. I remember when they first moved to New York State over a year ago he asked my younger sister about cell phone plans. He ended up buying the phones that my sister recommended. I guess he thought my sister was more technical savvy, but this means he listens to at least one of his daughters!

My dad is not alone when it comes to asking for technical help from the kids. Turns out there is tons of research that shows parents rely on their (teenagers) kids’ advice when it comes to making purchases especially for electronics. Guess my dad doesn’t ask me because I am not a teenager anymore! It might be hard to believe, but teenagers like you have a lot of power to help your parents make all kinds of purchasing decisions.

I am sure you can’t imagine buying a washing machine or a dishwasher right now, but someday you might. Or it could be a new microwave, TV, or other electronic device. It doesn’t even have to be about electronics – there are all kinds of home improvement projects you could do with your family. Or maybe you have been dreaming about a car to drive when you can – you’ll definitely want to participate in that decision! Now’s a good time to practice making these kinds of decisions and working with your parents to figure out what works best for your family and budget.

Check out the Energy Conservation page on our Web site for some tips. What are some ways that you have already helped your family with these types of decisions?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Community Service Projects

About the author: Amanda Sweda joined EPA’s Office of Environmental Information in 2001 and develops policy development for web related issues and serves on the Environmental Education Web Workgroup. Amanda is a former Social Studies and Deaf Education teacher and is married to a math teacher so education is an important topic in their home.

My 20 year high school reunion is this summer so I’ve been reconnecting with old friends, looking at my yearbook, and thinking about my high school days (yeah Class of 1989!). In some respects I am sure high school hasn’t changed much since I was in school – homework (too much), worrying about what to wear and my hair, thinking about the future (ranging from college to the prom)…that sort of thing. But some things have really changed. In 1989, we didn’t have e-mail, cell phones with text messaging, or even the Internet to help us with our research and homework! Now before you start thinking I am really old – we did have computers. I used the computer to write my papers for school but I could turn in a handwritten copy if necessary. Another difference – there is more focus on community service now – sure we did things for our community but nothing like the current generation’s commitment to service. So when I was thinking back to my school days, I was wondering what I would have done for community service in my small hometown of Rockwall, Texas. Back then, I don’t know where I would have started with coming up with ideas for making the environment better. For the past seven years, I have worked for EPA and try to do as much as I can at home and at work to make a difference in the environment…I only wish I could have used what I know now to help make a difference back in school in my community and the environment….

If you are looking for a potential community service project, sometimes the best place to start is with an issue or concern (or a potential one) in your community. Read your community’s newspaper (or web site), check out what the hot topics are in the town meetings, and take a look at the Community Service Projects page on EPA’s High School Web site. You can also check out “In Your Neighborhood” links to find resources about watersheds, air quality, ecological footprints, and if you’re not sure where to start – just plug your zip code into the Zip Code Search and see what comes up. Every community is different because of its history, geography, culture, etc. What you care about may be different from what I care about for lots of reasons so find something that matters to you. No matter what you do – enjoy your time in high school.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Back to School?

About the author: Amanda Sweda joined EPA’s Office of Environmental Information in 2001 and develops policy development for web related issues and serves on the Environmental Education Web Workgroup. Amanda is a former Social Studies and Deaf Education teacher and is married to a math teacher so education is an important topic in their home.

image of author sitting on a rock with woods in the backgroundMost of us would love to go back to our high school days. Sounds unlikely, huh? A lot of adults remember high school as being care-free – our families took care of the big stuff like food, bills, and “grown-up” stuff. As we get older we take those responsibilities on for ourselves – going to college or getting job training, working full-time, finding and taking care of where we live, settling down whether it be marriage or a steady relationship, starting families, and paying bills. But as we get older we forget that teenagers have a lot of responsibilities too and that our younger days were not just fun and games! There is homework, writing papers and doing research, practice for sports, debate, band, theater, etc., being involved in school clubs, volunteering and community service work, working part-time jobs, doing chores at home, spending time with friends and relaxing (very important!), and thinking about the future and what happens after high school.

Most of us who work at EPA are way past our high school days, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t think about high school issues. EPA’s mission is to protect human health and the environment – high school students are definitely included. One of the ways that we interact with high school students directly is on our Web site. There is a group of dedicated EPA staff who maintains this site – the Environmental Education Web Workgroup (EEWW). Our members work all over the country in our different region offices but we share a common goal – to make sure that our high school education resources is of the highest quality and meets your needs. We can always make the high school site better…and one of the ways that we’d like to hear form you is on this blog. Once a month on the last Friday of the month, a member of EEWW will post a new entry for high school students. We hope you’ll join us and share with us your thoughts and opinions. Let us know what environmental topics you are interested in. We’re curious to hear if your school has an environmental club and what kinds of projects they’re working on. Just so you know we are not going to do your homework, but we can help you find information about the environment, community service, and other topics that might be of interest to you.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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