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Greening the next generation

Volunteers hard at work
Volunteers hard at work
Cheryl Weatherley-Eaton

Arabia Mountain High, a DeKalb county magnet school with a focus on environmental, energy and engineering education, has a long rich environmental history. It was built on land rich with natural habitats; surrounded by 2,000 acres of undeveloped property. As you stand in front of the building it dominates the surrounding green space, all is quiet from human interaction as students sit in their classrooms with wide windows to observe the view. All of a sudden you stop and stand in peace from the daily grind of the city for a moment and listen to the symphony of nature and as the ears hear the notes, automatically the eyes close and you find a deep breath is appropriate before walking into the building to sign in as a visitor. An unforgettable moment, after driving over an hour to discover the gardens and discuss the environmental science program.

April 3, 2014 was a big day for Arabia Mountain High School and its environmental science class. The Nature Conservancy brought a corporate sponsor, Craig Camuso with CSX, along with Kyla VanDeusen with the Captain Planet Foundation. These organizations support the environmental science garden through the LEAF program with labor, finances and materials. Both volunteers and students laid cardboard, added mulch and soil and, then planted various vegetables and herbs in several key-hole gardens along with approximately a 12’ x 12’ in-ground garden .

Arabia Mountain High can boast of being the only Metro-Atlanta High School with an environmental focus. It is one of just a few in Georgia Schools that are designated as a national “Green Ribbon School” by the U.S. Department of Education and in 2013 had a 97% graduation rate. Principal Rodney Swanson boasted in front of guests at a presentation given at the end of the hour and half project time, that in 2014 there will be a 100% graduation rate.

Mr. Joshua Rogers, teacher over the environmental science program, introduces the subject to urban born and raised children year after year; encouraging students to open their minds and understand the science and bio-diversity of nature. Mr. Rogers feels privileged to boast of several outstanding students that have benefited from the environmental science program.

One female student became involved with the Fernbank Science center as a volunteer after they had to release several employees. The student took on the responsibility of caring for the roses and later became a student at UGA in their Agri program. Getting her mother involved was important and the mother soon acquired an environmental position through the influence of volunteering efforts. It didn't stop there, the student also got her grandmother involved by starting a local community garden not far from her home which she now supervises.

The Nature Conservancy has deep roots in Arabia Mountain High School. Deron Davis, Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy Georgia, advocated for Arabia Mountain becoming an environmental focused high school by presenting the benefits to the planning committee early in the development and planning of its existence. The Nature Conservancy has brought the LEAF program as another opportunity for students to become involved with the natural environment outside the local high school.

LEAF is a Nature Conservancy national program which is a project-, science-based extension program. After a successful start in New York, The Nature Conservancy recognized the potential and asked other states to volunteer and Georgia was the first to raise their hand. Under the leadership of Devon Davis, Leesa Carter, Angela Brisson, Sherry Crawley and Blaine Segrew, Arabia Mountain is a successful pilot project. The goal is to plant 10 additional gardens at Middle schools around Georgia.

Once a year, LEAF selects 100 students nation-wide to participate in a summer intern program. Blaine Sergrew states that for 2014 the number of applicant selections will increase from 100 to 144 students. The students travel to one of The Nature Conservancy reserves to help regulate invasive plant species, become trailblazers, and work on special projects. The Nature Conservancy in Georgia chooses 24 students from Arabia Mountain High School for the program each summer.

Two students from Arabia Mountain were chosen for the program. Jada Allred applied hoping to sharpen her leadership and networking skills along with finding clarity in her career choice. She found much more. Before becoming involved with environmental science her goal was to become a cosmetologist. Now her plans are to study environmental psychology. The first 2 years will be spent at Baldwin College with the last 2 years attending Emory University.

Joshua McCloud was just a 16-year old shy boy that loved the company of his parents. Blaine saw potential in Joshua and selected him for two-consecutive LEAF summer programs. It is very rare for a student to be chosen twice, but it will pay-off in the end. Joshua will be attending Moorehouse College and then later Georgia Tech in their Bio-Engineering program. He plans to design a camera claw that assists scientists in monitoring turtle burrows. Joshua will never forget his first year at Moody Forest in Baxley, Georgia or his time spent the next summer meeting fellow students in Havana, Illinois working at Emiquon Reserve.

Captain Planet had fun being the center of attention. Most of the classroom students and senior-class volunteers remember watching the Captain Planet cartoon series on Saturday mornings while attending elementary school.

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