Kids Are Kids Until They Aren’t

People feel teenagers are apathetic, disconnected and sometimes downright rude. After teaching for 40 years what I have observed is kids are kids. They learn from their parents and from others around them. If they are allowed to do what they want whenever they want, they do not learn the concepts of deadlines, respect, and commitment.

Having always loved science and leadership, I could never quite figure out how to connect the two in the classroom in a 50-minute class.  A few years before I retired from the school I learned of an Environmental Leadership program offered through UCSD Extension for high school students. I saw this program as an opportunity to continue doing what I loved: working with high school students, teaching science, teaching leadership and having them see how they can be leaders in caring for this earth we will be leaving in their hands.

For the past 8 years, I have had the pleasure of working with over 400 HS students in the program, helping them learn about themselves and how they can contribute to society productively and responsibly. They learn science, whether working side by side with a researcher from the University of Arizona or Scripps Institution of Oceanography. They learn to speak up and advocate for something they feel passionate about and lobby on Capitol Hill in Washington DC. They learn how the Hawaiian culture has been preserved and continues to thrive on the Big Island.  But more importantly, they learn about themselves. They learn how their actions and behaviors are a reflection of who they think they are. They learn to honor their commitments. They learn to be on time and apologize if they are not. They learn what it means to support a group and to put the success of the group before the success of the individual. They learn to trust, to rely on others and to give unconditionally. They learn to think more globally and outside themselves. They develop an action plan. Whether they carry through on it once they return home, I can only hope. What I do know is some return for a second summer or even a third. Some students ask for a college recommendation because they feel I know them better than some of their high school teachers. Some contact me later to let me know what an impact the program had on them and what they decided to do in college- or that they even decided to go to college.

This isn’t about me. It’s about each individual student and what we accomplish in just one or two weeks with dedication, commitment and having fun while doing it. Teenagers can be taught to be responsible and to appreciate themselves, each other and the world around them. They just need to get off their phones for a while and engage with people. Technology is isolating them and so teaching them how to use it, when to use it and how it can benefit them is all part of the program. WOW we cover a lot in a short period of time, but I see results, I hear their presentations at the end of the program, and I hear from the parents after the program.  There really is hope for our future, and this is one small way I’m helping to make it happen.

By Susan M


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