Students Boost Leadership at Atlanta’s Earth Tomorrow Summer Institute

Once a year, high school student environmental leaders from NWF Earth Tomorrow® clubs in Atlanta can apply to spend six days in a residential Summer Institute program at the Georgia Institute of Technology that provides them with the opportunity to develop leadership skills, investigate their local environment, participate in hands-on data collection and analysis, enjoy the great outdoors, interact with environmental leaders and professionals, and be exposed to college life.

Earth Tomorrow Club President and Summer Institute participant working hard at an urban farm. Photo by Charles Brown
Throughout the academic year, students in Earth Tomorrow® clubs lead, plan, and implement school-wide and community-oriented greening projects with the support of staff sponsors, parents, community members, and NWF Education Programs staff, Na’Taki Osborne Jelks and myself. These students display an interest in environmental challenges and taking on leadership roles to address them, and make each summer’s selection of about 30 student leaders an incredibly competitive process. The students are joined by 6 peer mentors, who are college students and previous Summer Institute participants, that play a critical role in leading and encouraging students to try new things.

This year, 29 high school students from participating schools in the Metro Atlanta area attended the 14th annual Earth Tomorrow® Summer Institute – a sort of environmental leadership boot camp. The majority of the participants are active in pre-existing Earth Tomorrow® Clubs, and a few attend the Institute to kick-start new clubs at their schools. Each day of the Summer Institute carries a different theme and plenty of experiential learning opportunities. The themes for this year included: food sustainability, urban ecosystems, climate change, environmental justice, college and career preparation, project planning and a celebratory day to acknowledge their accomplishments for the week. The intensive program also provides hands-on service, learning opportunities and immersion experiences in nature.

The students were asked to keep a journal and complete daily evaluations which captured the true essence of the week. Now, I can do a play-by-play recap of each day with highlights about where we went and what we did (blah…blah…blah) or I can go through the week with comments from student participants and share some really cool pictures which should be way more interesting! You voted for the latter, right?

Here you go, enjoy:

SUNDAY: Welcome/ Earth Tomorrow Introduction /Community Building

Na’Taki Osborne Jelks talks with students about items they found while cleaning up Proctor Creek. Photo by Charles Brown
Student participants had this to say on their daily evaluation:

“Teamwork makes the dream work! The team building exercise was fun and mind bending, at first.”

“I learned some very useful team building devices. We were encouraged to step out of our comfort zones and meet new people, which I believe is incredibly useful.”

“I enjoyed the overview and the discussion about each school’s Earth Tomorrow club and what they incorporated in their clubs on a daily basis…it gave our school some ideas.”

“I enjoyed rock climbing the most because I overcame my fear of heights.”

MONDAY: Food Sustainability and Food Justice & Urban Ecosystems

Student help remove weeds and lay mulch at local farm. Photo by Charles Brown

“I found many opportunities to serve my community and help the environment in an urban setting.” –  Nia Morrison, Arabia Mountain High School

“I plan to make a huge difference in my Earth Tomorrow club at school. I would also like to volunteer at a garden.” – Gennifer Allen, Pebblebrook High School

Student participants also had this to say on their daily evaluation:

“I had no idea that food deserts are such a huge problem for many communities. I have definitely been inspired.”

“I enjoyed the community service the most, because even though there is a lot of work, seeing the impact you’ve made is amazing.”

“Maintaining a farm takes a lot of work and most people don’t give farmers as much credit in the community as they deserve.”

TUESDAY: Environmental Justice and Climate Change

Dr. McClain inspires a group of Earth Tomorrow Students during the Environmental Justice Dinner. Photo by Charles Brown
Student participants had this to say on their daily evaluation:

“I enjoyed the environmental justice banquet the most because it was so moving and inspiring to hear elders speak on what you can do to make a difference.”

“Trash and pollution can always end up in water supply…I would like to do more creek clean-ups.”

“I learned about climate change, which is really important because it can affect people, not only those today, but those in the future.”

“People like Dr. McClain helped me to understand that whatever career I pursue, I will always be able to make an impact on the environment.”

WEDNESDAY: Get Outdoors Georgia!

Students tubing the Chattahoochee River in North Georgia. Photo by Charles Brown
 “I was able to camp in an environment that I have never been in before (bear country).” – Joshua Bellamy, Dekalb Early College Academy

“I pushed myself to get outside of my comfort zone and try new things, like when we went tubing.” – Calyx Deroche, Pebblebrook High School

“I exceeded my goals by having fun and doing things I have never done before such as; tubing, camping, visiting Helen, Ga, looking for macroinvertebrates, archery, and trying new foods.” – Latricia Elliott, Dekalb Early College Academy

Student participants also had this to say on their daily evaluation:

Photo by Charles Brown
“I learned more about archery. This is a great way to bond with nature.”“I enjoyed tubing the “Hooch” because of the scenery and adventure.”“I learned the importance of “leave no trace” which is crucial to having a safe camping trip.”

“Testing water quality is not just essential for humans, but to wildlife as well. Which is why it’s important to not litter in lakes, creeks or on the street, etc.”

THURSDAY: College Fair & Celebration

Eriqah Vincent shares information about NWF with student participants during the College and Career Fair. Photo by Charles Brown

 “I met my goals by learning about different projects and occupations that will better the ecosystem and benefit humans and wildlife in the future.” – Ashley Chambler, Pebblebrook High School

Student participants also had this to say on their daily evaluation:

“I learned all about the financial aid process when applying to college, as well as other information about colleges. This is important to me because I will have to start applying to colleges soon and many that we met today are potential choices.”

“I learned of several marine biology programs. I want to be a Marine Biologist.”

“The EPA interested me the most. I would like to learn more about their international projects.”

“I really found my skill of networking. I was able to hold steady conversations, rarely being nervous, and was able to understand their jargon.”

FRIDAY: Club and Project Planning/Awards Luncheon

Photo by Charles Brown

“I wasn’t expecting so much fun to come out of all the work we accomplished this week. I especially enjoyed the camping experience on Wednesday night because I’d never been camping before. I had my suspicions, but then felt safer as things were explained. I also enjoyed the river cleanup. It felt good to know that a river will be clean thanks to me.” – Osjale Morman, Grady High School

“This by far was the best week of my summer. I gained a lot of knowledge that I can now use in everyday life.” – Dymond Latimer, Arabia Mountain High School

“New ideas were brought to the table and can be implemented in our club. I am thankful I was chosen and able to attend this wonderful institute. I hope to come next year and have a greater experience.” – Betty Joseph, Dekalb Early College Academy

“I exceeded my goals this week. This week I planned to build Tucker High School’s club, and we did just that. Tucker now has six officers that are ready and willing to help make Earth Tomorrow a big part of Tucker. Also, we now have ideas for meetings and field trips for Earth Tomorrow.” – Brendon Barclay, Tucker High School

Photo by Charles Brown
I had this to say, in conclusion: “Every year I look forward to this week. I already know that some students will be challenged and that the Georgia heat will prove to be an obstacle for most by the end of the week. However, students begin to make some critical connections; they understand the importance of wildlife, pollinators, urban ecosystems, and environmental justice much better than they did coming in – I know – we administered pre and post-tests. I can’t wait to see how they use this week to make a yearlong environmental contribution to their schools and local communities.”


view more photosTo view photos of year-round Earth Tomorrow® activities, check us out on Flickr!