For the last 10 years, select Georgia high school students statewide have had the sought-after opportunity to participate in a week-long environment-focused leadership development program on a state college campus.
The program, which includes participants’ lodging, meals and expenses, is all part of the 21st Century Leaders’ EarthCare: The Leadership Challenge for the 21st Century, said Bob Watson, the organization’s executive director. The program exposes students to various environmental and leadership challenges through interactive workshops, plant tours, and roundtable sessions with Georgia Power business leaders.
The goal of the program is to inspire high school students to take on leadership positions, explore career opportunities, and give back to their communities by connecting with a diverse group of peers, professionals and ideas, transforming their skills, attitudes and abilities through training, and hands-on experiences.
“It is this value and the commitment to our youths’ success that brought me to be actively involved with the 21st Century Leaders organization,” said Danny Lindsey, board member and Georgia Power’s senior vice president for power delivery.
Two-thirds of the students who participate are minority, 60 percent are female and in any given year, 35-50 percent are low-income students.
Since 2010, Chattahoochee RiverWarden has worked to protect and provide stewardship for the middle Chattahoochee River basin from West Point Lake in west Georgia, to the Florida state line in Georgia and Alabama.
Educating the community on what a clean river is and should be is one part of the organization’s responsibilities, according to Henry Jackson, executive director. Through meetings and communication with homeowners, stakeholders and community residents, the RiverWarden shares information that will help raise awareness of the importance of a healthy river basin.
One education campaign that the organization has worked in partnership with Georgia Power on is the management of hydrilla, currently one of the most notorious invasive aquatic plants in the United States, including Georgia, Jackson said. Both work in partnership to advise about how to control this plant and why it’s important to stop its spread.
Georgia Power employees also participate in community river cleanups and assist Chattahoochee RiverWarden with water sampling on a regular basis.
The 1,440-acre Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve in Gainesville is one of Georgia’s largest protected spaces and it serves as an ideal outdoor classroom for the Elachee Nature Science Center’s innovative educational experiences.
Since 1986 when the nature center launched its environmental education programs, students have participated in field trips at this regional resource, said Kim Marks, Elachee’s director of development and communications.
In 2017, the nature center served 33,000 students from 215 schools, representing 25 counties and 26 school systems in Georgia. As an outreach initiative, Elachee’s skilled instructors also take selected standards-based STEAM programs on the road to students in their classrooms.
In the past three years, the nature center, which focuses on promoting environmental understanding through education and conservation, has seen a 10-12 percent increase in school program participation. Grants help schools - many that receive Title I funds - to participate in these programs that teach next generation Earth stewards the science behind the environment.
When it comes to youth leadership, Georgia 4-H earns the honor as the largest youth leadership organization in the state. Founded in 1904, the organization reaches more than 168,000 youth in all 159 counties each year and helps encourage them to become better citizens and grow into responsible, active adults.
Participating students achieve this through hands-on learning experiences focused on agricultural and environmental issues, agriculture awareness, leadership, communication skills, food and nutrition, health, energy conservation and citizenship, according to Arch Smith, state 4-H leader and director of 4-H.
“So many of the skills children acquire in 4-H help prepare them for the workforce,” he said.
“We are helping children realize their goals and attain things they thought were impossible at one time.”
Partnering with private and public schools across the state and developing public and private partnerships, like with Georgia Power, has been an integral key to 4-H’s success.
The company’s relationship with 4-H began in the 1950s with the development of Rock Eagle 4-H Center in Eatonton, one of the organization’s five outdoor classrooms where environmental education programs are offered.
“I don’t think we have any better friend than Georgia Power. We would not be where we are today without that support,” said Smith.
Students who participate in 4-H often benefit from the program’s leadership, citizenship and public speaking opportunities.
At the City of Kennesaw’s Smith-Gilbert Gardens, a 16-acre site with more than 3,000-plus species of plants, students in Cobb County are uncovering one of north Georgia’s hidden gems.
Approximately 1,800 students from schools within Cobb County and home-schooled students participated in the growing number of field trips and program series last year, according to Ann Parsons, executive director.
During the 45-minute school field trip, students can visit all areas of the garden and experience different aspects of nature, including learning about plants, their parts, functions and variations. Children attending Title I schools receive discounted admission to the garden.
“We’re losing a connection with nature,” Parsons said. “With our field trips, children have a chance to be outside and see nature, and see how text in their textbooks come to life. It’s a wonderful way for a school to connect their science programs with the gardens.”
The Georgia Power Foundation is currently supporting the new education building to be constructed at the Gardens, and the company has provided board leadership and employee volunteers for projects.