LEAF program helps students prepare for jobs of the future

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We hear it again and again, the jobs of the future will require more math and science than ever before, and for some kids the best place to learn those skills isn't in a classroom, but at the river.

At first glance, it may look like just a cool hike in the Arizona wilderness, but when we caught up with kids taking part in the LEAF program, the were not only wading into the Verde River, they are wading into a math lesson, calling out number after number.

From calculating surface area to estimating diameters, they are learning real-life lessons as part of the Nature Conservancy internship. According to program director Kim Schonek, LEAF stands for Leaders for Environmental Action in the Future.

“So it is a program trying to get teens to come out and learn in nature, so they actually get an experience knowing what they are doing applies from the classroom and applying it in the field,” Schonek said.

When we caught up with these students, they were mapping invasive species along the river, every stop a learning experience as Schonek tests them along the way, “Do you guys know some of the bad things about tamarisk? It absorbs a lot of water from the other plants.“

Not only do these invasive shrubs steal precious water from a main source for the Valley, but they change flood patterns and destroy habitat, all important things to know for kids looking for sustainable careers.

“Green jobs are the jobs of the future," Schonek said. "And actually having a good strong base in science and engineering and mathematics, you know they actually get to tie all of those things together and see how it fits into the environment.”

In fact, kids who take part in this program are five times as likely to major in life sciences as students who do not, and the impact shows with students like Wasu Vihokrut.

“I have been interested in environmental science for a long time,“ Wasu said.

Others like Joel Ortiz are discovering they have a knack for it they hadn’t realized before.

“To be honest with you, I really didn't consider this is one of my options, but you know, it is easy for me,“ Joel said.

But whethr or not these students ultimately choose a science career, they are building thier knowledge base and thinking skills for any job.

According to student Kelvin Payton, “So it is a different experience out here than in the class. So this is really getting me out there and exposing me to a lot of things.“

Schonek said it all comes together as they take on new tasks.

“They have to make decisions so they have to decide how close is this to the river, how far away, and that is important when we talk about herbicides," Schonek said. "So we need to have them making good decisions, and understanding why they are making those decisions.“

Student Lavaughn Price said that makes a trip to the river one of the smartest things he could do with his summer.

“When you come out here you know it gives you an insight in how much nature there is and how much it needs to be conserved,“ Lavaughn said.

And Schonek hopes even more kids can get involved in the future.

“The more kids we can get outside and doing these careers in nature and just exploring what the options are the better,“ Schonek said.


For more information nature.org/LEAF