A Student Voice on Young Reporters for the Environment

This month, National Wildlife Federation launched the Young Reporters for the Environment (YRE) program in the United States. YRE is an international program active in more than 25 countries around the world and coordinated by the Foundation for Environmental Education. Like Eco-Schools USA, YRE USA connects students in this country to a global network of youth working on behalf of the environment. Through YRE USA, middle and high school students investigate environmental issues in their communities and report on them in writing, photo, or video. Kent Keller, a high school student in Chicago and YRE participant, shares his perspectives on the  program here.

Kent with Birds-in-a-Box kit
Kent Keller with his “Birds-in-a-Box” kit
Millions of school children living in cities are surrounded by buildings, cars, buses and concrete. These children have almost no interaction with nature or wildlife in their daily lives. As a result, most never develop an appreciation for conservation or protection of the natural environment. I attend high school in downtown Chicago and observe this almost every day.

To combat this, I created an educational tool kit designed to inform elementary students in urban Chicago about birds and their relationship with urban ecosystems. My idea was to get them to first understand the wildlife in their own backyard, which might lead to a broader concern for conservation around the planet. With grant funding, I created my educational tool kits, which I dubbed “Birds-In-A-Box.” The kits contain materials such as books, examples of bird food, and objects that demonstrate the uses of bird beaks. The kits also contain stuffed bird toys that emit songs when pressed (complete with information sheets about each bird) and a binder full of educational material. Finally, there is a packet with student worksheets about birds.

After developing the “Birds-In-A-Box” kits, I presented and donated the kits to Chicago elementary schools. The material was well received by both students and teachers. In addition, the school administrations were happy to have me present, and expressed interest in having me return to present my kit and other environmental topics to more students. To my delight, the Field Museum in Chicago (where I was an intern for the summer) plans to incorporate “Birds-In-A-Box” elements into their urban educational program. I also wrote an article about my project and entered it into the international environmental journalism contest run by Young Reporters for the Environment and received an award for third place.

The world is facing many grave environmental problems, which plague almost every corner of the planet. I believe that the Young Reporters program provides youth with an excellent opportunity to voice their concerns and educate others about these environmental challenges. In addition, the Young Reporters program prompts youth to take real, concrete action on environmental issues, in addition to simply writing about them.

The Young Reporters program has a simple goal that I share—to spur students to build awareness and take conscious action in their community. It is a call to “get involved,” whether to encourage a change in habits or address a glaring issue in the local environment. I want to encourage students across the United States in every grade to find their voice and become a Young Reporter for the Environment!

The YRE USA team applauds Kent Keller for both his winning entry in the YRE competition and his great work connecting elementary students with nature through his innovative bird kits. Kent is a student at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago, Illinois and invites you to find out more about “Birds-in-a-Box” at ConservationStarters.com. He has a passion for wildlife conservation and, as the first participant in the new YRE USA program, is leading the charge for a new wave of youth to take on the challenges and rewards of environmental journalism.