Restoring Our Collective Spirit at TeenNat

By Holland Gistelli, Education Program Coordinator

Each July since 2013, TeenNat has brought together local high-schoolers to roam Pepperwood’s hills, getting to know flora and fauna, and practicing environmental science in the field. Though this summer our cohort was smaller than most years to accommodate COVID-19 safety concerns, the smaller group still made a BIG impression on me.

Each one of our participants brought something unique to the program, and showed up fully present for each day. They were willing to try new things and contribute to the shared collective experience. After well over a year of the isolation of remote schooling, youth are looking for connection. It warmed my heart to witness them finding this connection at Pepperwood – to each other, to themselves, and to the land. It only took a few days to start to feel the sense of community that was building among these teens, and it was very restorative. It put a smile on my face to see new combinations of people deep in conversation or laughing together as we walked the trail or ate lunch.

A highlight this year was seeing our teens present their independent projects on the final day. We had tasked them with developing a project that would demonstrate their learning at Pepperwood – it could be research-based, art-based, or a blend of the two. These projects provided the teens an opportunity to pursue their own interests and share their perspectives, and it was downright inspiring to hear about them.

Karen researched creatures typically thought of as “scary” to help show people that they are actually harmless and quite interesting. Jin was curious why some people are not affected by poison oak, so he researched the science behind the skin reaction and made a video about it. Satleen was inspired by the beauty of our butterfly collection, so she researched local butterfly species to paint on a canvas tote bag. Jillian, Gemma, and Leslie channeled their curiosity into nature journals. The collection of finished projects is diverse and insightful, and to see the teens present their finished work was a beautiful moment. You can view their projects by visiting the TeenNat 2021 Project Gallery!

Throughout the program and in their projects, this group of teens demonstrated leadership, creativity, and collaboration. They gave me a sense of hope and renewed purpose. I know I can speak for the whole TeenNat Team in saying that we are very proud of each of them, and look forward to seeing where their life of learning takes them! My gratitude goes out to each of our donors for making this program possible and accessible at no cost to our participants.

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