Earth Tomorrow Virtual Summer Series takes on Leadership, Social Justice, and Nature

NWF hosts two programs for high school students interested in learning more about the environment, gaining leadership skills, enjoying the natural world, and tackling environmental justice issues – Earth Tomorrow and the Detroit Leadership and Environmental Education Program (DLEEP). Both of these respected programs are rooted in vulnerable communities that are most impacted by environmental justice issues but least represented within environmental decision-making venues. Often, these programs are student’s first entry point to learn about and discuss these complex issues, inspiring them to get more involved in making their communities safer.

As many in-person summer programs were canceled across the nation due to COVID-19, the NWF education team quickly adapted to the new norm. We brought together high school students in our environmental justice and leadership programs from Atlanta, Detroit, Niagara Falls, and Houston for the first-ever virtual Earth Tomorrow Summer Series. The engaging series consisted of four sessions spread over two weeks, covering a variety of timely presentations and breakout discussions each day.

While things are constantly changing in the world of high school students and recent graduates, we intentionally created a consistent space to listen, learn, and build with students. Themes for the week included: Project Planning for Change; Hiking While Black; Environmental Career Outlook during a Pandemic; and Environmental Justice is Social Justice.

Crystal Jennings, Manager of Education and Outreach, shared the history of NWF’s Earth Tomorrow program, now in its 20th year, as well as advice for students looking to develop Earth Tomorrow clubs at their schools or within a virtual classroom setting.

Courtney Cochran, Manager of the NWF EcoLeader Program and Earth Tomorrow programming in Niagara, NY, led a session on tools and resources available to students through the online NWF EcoLeaders online community and guided students through a project planning exercise.

“I really enjoyed discussing the Project Planning Template. Having to think of environmental issues and ways to tackle them with other people brought a lot of new ideas that I could implement in my club in the upcoming school year. I also enjoyed the icebreaker with a partner, I met someone from my school I never knew of before.” – student reflection

David Corsar, Manager of Career Development at NWF led a session on environmental careers in a changing environment including many helpful tips to get high school students on the path to learning and planning for meaningful careers, especially through NWF’s EcoLeader Career Center.

Antonio Cosme, Manager of Detroit Environmental Education and Leadership Program, shared his personal environmental activist story and led discussions around hiking while black, exploring obstacles that black and brown people face when pursuing outdoor recreation and ways to stay safe outside.

“I enjoyed listening to other’s ideas about their plans to raise environmental awareness and create an environmental-friendly community.” – student reflection

Kimberly Barrett, Manager of Equity and Justice for NWF’s Education and Engagement team, led a session exploring the intersection of environmental justice and social justice, with a special emphasis on the ways in which the current pandemic is highlighting many of the environmental justice issues in communities across the country.

“I enjoyed the breakout groups where we could discuss examples of redlining and environmental racism. I realized things about my own community that I had not noticed before.” – student reflection

While we couldn’t be together in person this year, we did incorporate outdoor elements into the series by encouraging students to get outside (safely) in their neighborhoods and nearby parks to participate in a virtual nature challenge. Students were challenged to take photos of wildlife they spotted and share a fun fact about their subject matter as well as photos of themselves enjoying nature to win a camping tent!

Below are photos submitted by students as part of the outdoor challenge contest with their own fun facts:

Photo submitted by GA student, Jenna Nguyen, “Fun fact: Male deer grow new antlers each year!”
Photo submitted by GA student, Endy Huynh, “This is a gardenia flower. The plant grows in a bush form. Gardenias have a really lovely smell. If water touches gardenia flowers, the flowers will turn a coffee-colored brown.”

Please visit DLEEP to learn more about our high-school program in Detroit or Earth Tomorrow in Atlanta and Niagara, NY.