Not many teen summer project descriptions start with, “Do you love to walk in the forest and wade in streams? Are you the “crazy” one amongst your friends who doesn’t complain when you get caught in the rain? Do you like bugs, slugs, plants, and mud? Do you like doing physical work to build things? Can you be a positive leader for younger kids?”
This year, the Kohala Watershed Partnership started their first Summer Teen Program that had four teens doing all things outdoors and more.
The program wasn’t for forest newbies – only students with past KWP and leadership experience were chosen from a variety of North Hawaii Schools – KaMele Sanchez from Honokaa High School, Makana Oliveros from Kanu o ka Aina, Dash Cotton from Parker School and Elizabeth “Lizzie” Jim from Hawaii Preparatory Academy.
Melora Purell, KWP coordinator, said they designed the program specifically for students to have a wide variety of camp, environmental and service experiences to help strengthen them for the future. They were given a chance to work with camp leaders, the KWP field crew, and top research scientists visiting Kohala.
“I asked the (KWP) crew what they thought would be the best combination if we worked with high school kids this summer – should we be doing science, should we be doing field work, or should they be helping out at camp, and they said ‘Yes.’ They should have an opportunity to do everything,” she said, nodding her head emphatically. “And so I just designed this and called it the Teen Leader Program this summer, and put it out there that they would be doing all those things – that they would be working with (Waimea Nature) camp, they would be working with the field crew, and that they would also hook up with whatever scientists were working on Kohala this summer.”
Purell said with logistical limits, she knew she would have to keep the student ratio small, so she asked for applicants among the students with previous KWP experience.
“Lizzie (Jim) was in camp when she was younger, and she did the science project with me in middle school,” Purell said. “Dash (Cotton) came to camp with me when he was younger. He did science projects in biology class and went out last summer. I offered to the HI-MOES kids with the snail researchers, and Dash stepped up and went out with the snail researchers to do snail surveys. Makana (Oliveros) started volunteering through school and then started showing up, and never stopped showing up.
KaMele Sanchez did HI-MOES, and she contacted me because she wanted to bring her science club out for a service day. She volunteered herself first to check it out and see what it is like. She organized her science club to come out during a school day and brought a teacher with her. And she got a whole group to come out and volunteer. That’s just typical KaMele.”
The program began with a three-day orientation at the beginning of June and ended on Aug. 9. During the middle, they each had his or her own unique experience working with the KWP crew on the Kohala Mountain and with visiting field researchers.
“I wanted to provide them with as many different experiences as possible,” Purell said. “That is why to the researchers, among my first questions to them and to and the others is, ‘Are you happy and willing to have my teen leaders come along with you and learn?’ It is all about creating the experiences, and so my goal for the summer was to create as many experiences as possible. And the amazing thing is my crew is willing to be teachers and to be mentors.”
“I like it,” Oliveros said, of working with the KWP crew. This is his second summer working with the Kohala Watershed Partnership staff. He said he eventually hopes to get a job with them.
The students also went to a Camp Ponoholo Ditch Trail cabin for an overnight program where they hiked in and hiked out for an overnight camping trip. They went on a night hike to study moths.
“I learned how to build a sediment dam,” Cotton said.
“A lot of times the kids don’t know that they don’t know,” Purell said. “That is such a strange expression, but they have to want to learn, and to be curious and willing to put themselves in new environments, and all four of these kids are so willing to jump in and try something new, whether it’s learning how to work a GPS or hacking through the strawberry guava, which they have all done.”
“It expanded my view on what could be studied in the forest. I saw new things,” said Cotton. “I thought, ‘Oh, I can study that, or do some sort of science project on that.’ You have to be there to see what there is to study.”
Purell said that path of discovery is the course of science.
“You have to be observing the natural environment to know how to ask a question to do a science experiment,” Purell said.
Cody Dwight, crew leader for the Kohala Watershed Partnership, said the students were given guidance and structure to help them understand specific elements of their environment.
“It’s not just that they are going through the motions, things are being explained, certain techniques and methods for them to get a bigger picture and better understanding about what they are learning in the mountains,” Dwight said. “They are learning how to identify plant species both endangered and invasive. They are learning different technologies, which is how to use GPS compasses to get their bearings in the field. We are giving them a little more self-reliance.
Dwight said the students were also learning how to mark points of interest, and how to use herbicides and different mitigation techniques for invasive plants. They also worked to grow and plant native species.
“I have been pretty impressed with their drive and their commitment – they really know what they want to do. They are comfortable getting wet. They step up to the plate with every task and job we give them – no complaints. It is inspiring to me to see young kids with this much motivation.”
Dwight said they are always with an older crewmember in the field – not standing over their shoulders, but teaching how to do things on their own. He said the crew enjoyed having the students around.
“We work really hard and sometimes it is cool when you have these younger students, and they are really excited about it (the work),” Dwight said. “ … They are the conduits for passing information onto the other kids who are their ages.”
Lizzie Jim said she enjoyed trekking through the forest scouting research sites with University of Hawaii professor Jon Price, a bio-geographer.
“I think I will use this knowledge to my advantage,” Jim said. “If I want to be a biologist or do something related to science, I can really use this. It will be helpful, and the skills that I learned will be useful.”
“I think I learned two different things,” Cotton said. “I think working with the crew just helps build character, and working with all the different scientists is a great experience — I really like the field of biology and biological engineering.”
“I hope they can expand the program more,” Cotton added.
Tim O’Sullivan, who is completing a master’s degree at the University of Hawaii-Hilo UH and studies conservation biology and environmental science, was one of the scientists who worked closely with the students in the field while he was doing studies on rauvolfia vomitoria, or Ralph, an invasive species that grows in the area.
O’Sullivan said he really enjoyed working with the students from a variety of schools.
“These kids give me hope,” O’Sullivan said. “I feel like this conservation program is even new for my generation. From these kids – they have grown up in it and they see things different from we do – they see the hope. We see all the damage we’ve caused, so it is very inspiring to see their perception. They grew up with recycling. The world is getting better in a lot of ways.”
O’Sullivan said he thought the program was a “wonderful precedence to funnel students into necessary jobs.”
“The students are really learning to be field biologists,” he said. “They have the skills and are learning to deal with nature. They are learning real life skills, and they have an ability to walk through a forest. … That can be empowering.”
They can do a stat test and organize volunteers, build a fence, run through a forest, recognize a pig dropping,” O’Sullivan added. “They are recognizing how many skills they can offer. I forget they are high school students often.”
“I would love to keep this program available for students that want to take this on,” Dwight said. “I hope they are gaining knowledge and these jobs will take them into the future.”
For more information on the KWP Summer Teen Program, visit their website at http://kohalawatershed.org/kwp-teen-leadership-program-2014.html.