By Jose Sanchez, 2014 Spring Intern
For the past six months, I have been privileged to work with Eagle Eye Institute as an intern through Northeastern University’s Co-op program. Working in the office and leading youth programs I have witnessed the incredible passion it takes to make partnerships come to life. In particular, I am most proud to have been given the opportunity to help lead the first youth programming at Medford High School (MHS).
The formation of this new EAGLE (Earth Advocates Green Leaders for the Environment) Club was made possible with the help of MHS’s headmaster, John Perella, and physical education teacher, Matt Galusi, who are both focused on getting students and staff engaged in outdoor education. The 3,400-acre Middlesex Fells Reservation is located right behind the school, which would lead one to believe that it is commonly used by the Medford High community. Unfortunately, a large portion of the school community is unfamiliar with their forested reserve. The MHS EAGLE Club aims to connect the school community with their backyard oasis of natural beauty, wildlife, and ecological prosperity.
This past spring, over 40 MHS juniors and seniors spent their weekly gym periods learning about the ecology of the Fells while playing an active role in maintaining its integrity as part of an “Outdoor Pursuits” physical education elective. EAGLE Club lessons included vernal pool ecology, preservation and protection, invasive species removal, tree identification, water quality, and trail maintenance. Throughout the program we introduced concepts of environmental stewardship and related them back to youths’ daily lives.
Some of the students involved in this programming were inspired to take part in additional stewardship projects Eagle Eye offered in the Lawrence Woods section of the Fells when school was out in June. During these completely voluntary work days, we focused on invasive species removal, water bar installations, and the construction of a foot bridge along one of the trails leading from the high school. Students actively played a role in improving their community and protecting their environment – choosing to take their free time to connect with and care for nature.
Since the start of my internship I have grown both professionally and personally. Working with students so close in age to myself has caused me to reflect on the path I have taken since high school and figure out why I made the choices that led to my present course in life. For example, the first time EAGLE Club met as a class, students asked why I chose to study environmental science and why I chose to go to Northeastern University. I felt a deep searching and sincerity in their questions and it led me to some deep thinking on the matter. I realized I was in a unique position to be an example for the students. I recognized that they are on the verge of figuring out who they want to be in this world, what colleges or career paths they want to head on to – a position I so recently was in myself. I was amazed to realize that through sharing of myself, I might be able to help them navigate their own choices.
After giving my canned response initially, I came back the next week and shared truthfully and with full conviction. I told the students that my passion for the environment has been a recent discovery that is constantly widening and evolving. I conveyed how my love for the natural world caused me to change majors, colleges, and cities in order to be in the position that I am now. I shared with them my memories of exploring my dad’s old hunting grounds in upstate New York and my family camping trips to Letchworth State Park – where I first found the peace and comfort that nature continues to bring me today. I disclosed how I recently became aware of a strong connection between the natural world and my mental health. From the well of my honesty, students became comfortable enough to share their own hopes and desires for the future. I found the students that I made connections with seemed more able to step out of their comfort zones and become more involved in EAGLE Club activities. Slowly they were able to point out the role nature was playing in their lives and some said they wanted more connection with nature too.
I am blessed to have played an active role as leader and mentor in EAGLE Club. I was inspired by the students and the stewardship work we conducted. I was as transformed by the experience as some of the youth were. EAGLE Club was an opportunity for youth and adults to be directly connected with youth and each other – allowing nature to teach and be a conduit for sharing that couldn’t happen in the classroom. Eagle Eye and I are extremely excited to see how the partnership with Medford High School will grow and continue the important work of inspiring youth to care for the environment.