The Next Generation of Environmental Leaders

Teora is a High School senior participating in The Environmental and Outdoor Leadership Program.

“When I was in Middle School, I did two expeditions with Philadelphia Outward Bound School (POBS), where I learned that I really loved being outside, and it’s a huge reason I’m pursuing an environmental career today,” said Teora, a senior from The Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts. “I’ve known about The Discovery Center since then, and became interested in the environmental justice impact it has on Strawberry Mansion.”

Teora is one of five incredible High School students participating in The Environmental and Outdoor Leadership Program, a 10-week paid internship at The Discovery Center in Fairmount Park.

The interns collected trash and debris from local storm drains, which would flow into the Schuylkill River otherwise.

This program, which began in 2022 and was created in partnership between POBS and Audubon Mid-Atlantic (AMA), provides local students with an opportunity to get meaningful work experience while serving their own community.

“The goal of this internship is to expose Philadelphia students to nature and the outdoor industry through hands-on experiences in local conservation, watershed protection, leadership development, and career exploration,” said Kadafi El-Kardah, Associate Director of Community Engagement at POBS.

This program reflects the wide-ranging services and values that both POBS and AMA share in common. Each week, the interns learn about topics such as climate change, local ecology, plant identification, watersheds, birds, leadership, and more. Then, they have time to apply their learnings at either The Discovery Center, or at an offsite location, such as the Fair Amount Food Forest.

Cohort members have gained a deep understanding of the Strawberry Mansion Reservoir ecosystem.

Students identify flora and fauna at The Discovery Center, gain a deeper understanding of the issues facing the Delaware River Watershed, and participate in leadership and team-building opportunities, all with the intention of increasing their stewardship of the environment.

“This internship has been a guaranteed confirmation that this is what I want to do in the future,” said Aiden, a senior at George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science.

The interns are working in a cohort composed of local students from different High Schools, varying ages, and at different stages in both career and academic exploration.

For some of the younger students, this is an opportunity to test the waters working in the environmental field.

“A big reason I’m doing the internship is to explore if I really like working in Environmental Science,” said Kyleem, a freshman at Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School. “I’ve been exposed to a lot while here including bird species, the water cycle, the plants. I’m still feeling it out.”

Teora and Kyleem working together to mark the local storm drains! (?)
The interns marked several storm drains as part of their community education efforts.

For some of the seniors, it’s an opportunity to further narrow their academic and professional interests as they transition into the next chapters of their lives.

“I already know I’m going to major in Environmental Policy and Justice at Warren Wilson College, and this program is a great opportunity to learn more about the green spaces and environmental issues right here at home,” said Teora. “I like that this cohort is a small group of people, it’s really easy to build connections. Going on the Aerial Teams Course was a really fun way to build trust with everyone at first, and digging raspberry trenches in the rain and dirt at Fair Amount Food Forest was a major highlight too. It was so much fun!”

Regardless of where they are on their respective paths, each intern participates in a career panel led by established professionals in a variety of environmental specialties. They receive invaluable advice to help the students make more informed decisions about their potential areas of interest.

They also had a fun time enjoying our indoor rock-wall site!

“I would encourage a student thinking about doing this internship to try it out and see what interests them,” said Teora. “This is a great opportunity for people who are still thinking about what they want to do. I think this internship will really help with that decision.”

What’s both clear and hopeful is that each student recognizes there’s collective work to be done in improving our environment

“Climate change is a big threat,” said Teora. “We need to protect our water and our fresh water spaces. There’s not a lot of them in Philly, and if we hurt these ones, there may not be any left, and we may not see as many birds because of it. I wanted a place to learn skills to help out, and this program has been just that!”

Interns planting raspberry bushes at the Fair Amount Food Forest.

The interns are required to complete a capstone project demonstrating their learnings over the course of the program. In 2022, the previous cohort hosted a workshop on biodiversity where they handed out insect hotels to visitors, and worked with staff to put new birdhouses on the grounds of The Discovery Center.

The current cohort hosted three workshops on the repurposing of plastic bottles at a public event at The Discovery Center. They presented on the impact plastic has on our environment, having been inspired to take action by the storm drain marking and watershed lessons during the program. At the workshops, the interns instructed visitors on the creation of plastic bottle bird feeders, planters, and flower crafts, and distributed native plants to visitors.

The next Environmental and Outdoor Leadership cohort begins this fall. Interested parties should contact Kadafi El-Kardah about applying.