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7/20/2013 1:46:00 PM
Turning over a new LEAF Atlanta-area students intern in Verde Valley with The Nature Conservancy
Interns with the Nature Conservancy’s LEAF program hike from the campground at Montezuma Well National Monument to the Well. The interns, Valeria Lake (foreground), Imani Jordan, Alexis Smoot, and Brittney Thompson, attend Arabia Mountain High School in Lithonia, a suburb of Atlanta. VVN/Bill Helm
Interns with the Nature Conservancy’s LEAF program hike from the campground at Montezuma Well National Monument to the Well. The interns, Valeria Lake (foreground), Imani Jordan, Alexis Smoot, and Brittney Thompson, attend Arabia Mountain High School in Lithonia, a suburb of Atlanta. VVN/Bill Helm
Alexis Smoot, Imani Jordan, Valeria Lake and Brittney Thompson, from left, are interns with the Nature Conservancy’s LEAF program. The interns attend Arabia Mountain High School in Lithonia, a suburb of Atlanta. VVN/Bill Helm
Alexis Smoot, Imani Jordan, Valeria Lake and Brittney Thompson, from left, are interns with the Nature Conservancy’s LEAF program. The interns attend Arabia Mountain High School in Lithonia, a suburb of Atlanta. VVN/Bill Helm

Bill Helm
Reporter


VERDE VALLEY - Four Georgia high school students are literally turning over a new leaf in the Verde Valley.

Imani Jordan, Valeria Lake, Alexis Smoot and Brittney Thompson, students at Arabia Mountain High School in Lithonia, a suburb of Atlanta, are spending July in Camp Verde. Through July 26, the students are interning with Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future, also known as LEAF.

Through The Nature Conservancy and Toyota USA Foundation, the LEAF program provides paid summer internships for high school students and helps educators from environmentally conscious high schools share their best practices and scientific resources.

The purpose of LEAF is three-fold. It supplements environmental education in the classroom with real-world experiences for urban youth; it supports a network of environmentally themed high schools sharing practices and resources in urban environmental education; and it increases student awareness of higher education and career paths in conservation.

According to Kim Schonek, Verde River Projects Manager with The Nature Conservancy, the interns "learn about archaeology and how they fit in with the ecology. They will see some artifacts, they will see what these cultural sites are, and the impact on the landscape. They also work on projects and learn about outdoor careers."

According to Amy Zimmermann, Verde River Riparian Restoration Coordinator for AmeriCorps, a partner with The Nature Conservancy, supplementing classroom lessons with outdoor projects "has a tremendous impact on students' lives - opening their eyes to career possibilities, building self-confidence, independence, work skills, conservation literacy, and a love of the outdoors."

Imani Jordan, 16, has been pleased with her experience with LEAF.

"The Nature Conservancy people are really nice," Imani says. "They are genuine and open to us. And we've learned a lot. Not very many people can list mapping invasive species on their job application. If I go environmental, I could use all of this."

Zimmermann says there are many partnerships within LEAF, such as the National Park Service, the Verde Watershed Restoration Coalition, Coconino Rural Environmental Corps, Prescott Creeks and AmeriCorps.

Since the LEAF interns arrived in Camp Verde on July 1, Zimmermann has been their crew chief and their resident house-parent. And with chaperone Susan Thompson, the interns have plenty of guidance.

Zimmermann says that the LEAF interns have taken well to their summer surroundings.

"They have minimal outdoor experience but have been bravely facing down their fears - of spiders, lizards, snakes, and heights - and conquering them one by one," Zimmermann says. "They haven't loved everything we've had them do, but they do it wholeheartedly. These girls haven't given anything less than their best since they've been here."

"The girls are learning adaptation skills," Thompson says of her interns. "This is not what they are accustomed to. They have learned a lot about Native American tribes, getting a myriad of historical experience, environmental experience and cultural experience."

Despite living in the big city, each of the four interns is preparing for careers that can take them anywhere they choose to live.

Alexis Smoot, 16, says she has learned about "all types of invasive species and has studied the Verde River." Though she says she is enjoying her time in the Verde Valley, she also says that environmental studies are "not what I want to do for a living."

Alexis, who in the fall will be a senior, says she plans to study medicine, possibly at Northern Arizona University.

Valeria Lake, the oldest intern at 17, also found NAU to be a good experience, as the interns took a recent trip to the university.

"People at NAU are very nice, friendly and welcoming." Valeria says.

Valeria says she plans to study either media or law when she gets to college in a year. But the time spent in the Verde Valley, she says, has made an impression on her.

"Being out here has made me more open-minded," she says. "While I've been out here, I've done more manual labor than I've ever done before. I've learned that you can branch out and that you don't have to be in an office all day."

Brittney Thompson says she wants to study marine biology, possibly at Prescott College. She says that by studying the Verde River, she can see how important it is to understand the living creatures in all water types.

"I think it's great that we're learning about all these species of animals," says Brittney, 16. "It is very important that we conserve these areas and that we grow these areas. These plants we're learning about, I'm going to remember them."

According to Zimmermann, the LEAF interns have averaged 35 hours of work each week, with duties including the removal of old, broken barbed wire fencing at Shield Ranch, identifying and mapping invasive plants on the Verde River, entering data with GPS units and planting creosote and yucca as part of a revegetation/anti-erosion stabilization project at Tuzigoot National Monument.

According to Melissa Philibeck, archaeology tech at Tuzigoot, the interns will be on record as having participated in the stabilization project.

"I hope that they develop a greater appreciation of National Parks and what we do to preserve these treasures," Philibeck says.

According to Zimmermann, the four interns from Georgia have taught her as much as she has taught them.

"They've stepped into a completely different lifestyle from the one they're accustomed to," Zimmermann says. "Their positivity, their unshakable confidence in each other and in the people directing them, and their can-do attitudes no matter what the situation, are as much a lesson to me as anything I'm teaching them."


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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Article comment by: Bridgette Thompson

These ladies are the perfect example of what we want to see from our future leaders. The recognition that if our environment is supposed to continue to sustain us way into the future, them we have got to take care of it. Special thanks to The Nature Conservancy for including the ladies of Arabia Mountain High School in south Dekalb in this wonderful program. Brittney your mom is super proud of you and is confident that regardless of your future studies, your lifestyle will reflect one of love for the environment.

Posted: Monday, July 22, 2013
Article comment by: Y Lemard

I am very proud of these girls being away from the usual comforts of home and family for an extended period, and doing selfless work - good going.
Love you Brittney




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