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Young People Learn Leadership in the Great Outdoors

The Cottonwood Institute is a nonprofit group that works with teenagers in the U.S. city of Denver, Colorado. It helps them learn about leadership while also learning about the environment.

Juliet Luna attends New Vista High School. She says it is not difficult to persuade young people to go into the mountains and search for solutions to environmental problems.

“Getting kids out into the environment inspires them to protect it, because if you don’t know what you’re protecting, why would you bother?”

The Cottonwood Institute works with teachers to help them combine classroom studies with environmental projects.

A group of students choose an environmental problem to solve. Over six or 12 weeks, they look for answers and join with local environmentalists to make those solutions work. After the project ends, the students have a greater understanding of the environment.

Jaden Games is in his final year of high school.

“I’ve learned a lot about CCD, which is colony collapse disorder, which has to do with the disappearance of bees. I’ve also learned a lot about fracking and water pollution.”

Ford Church launched the Cottonwood Institute ten years ago. He says he wants young people to learn about the environment so that it will be healthy many years from now.

“The big thing that’s important for us is making sure that our students take care of the land that we’re exploring. In the city you might drop trash on the ground and it’s not a big deal and that’s a big deal to us ‘cause this is our playground -- this is our office so to speak -- and we really wanna take care of it.”

Jaden Games and his classmate Cassidy Lam say being involved with the project has shown them that one person can make a difference.

“It’s really good to learn about the ecology and learn about the issues that we cause on the environment and how we can work on that and try to fix that.”

“It just felt like all of the things that are happening to our planet that are negative feel so big and impossible for me to change; but while getting involved in this program I realized that it’s actually really easy to take it step-by-little-step.”

Last year, the Cottonwood Institute worked with 415 students. It guided them through almost 5,000 hours of projects, giving them a chance to explore life outside the classroom and make a difference in their community.

I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.

Correspondent Paula Vargas reported this story from Denver, Colorado. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it into VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

inspire – v. to make (someone) want to do something; to give (someone) an idea about what to do or create

bother – v. to take the time to do something; to make an effort to do something

fracking – n. the process of injecting liquid at high pressure into underground rocks so as to be able to extract oil or gas

trash – n. things that are no longer useful or wanted and that have been thrown away

a big deal – idiom a subject, situation or event which people think is important

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