Youth Education – From Elementary to Early College

SAHC provides weekly environmental education for youth in after-school programs at Asheville Parks and Recreation community centers and YMCA Horizons. Equity and Education Manager LaKyla Hodges leads interactive sessions with these and other partners, fulfilling her career goal to serve as a role model for aspiring young conservationists. Summer offers additional opportunities for field trips and engaging outdoor adventures, and LaKyla is excited about planning a summer full of adventure.

A Role Model for the Next Generation

“I’ve been active in the environmental field since I was old enough to become a junior ranger or camp assistant,” shares LaKyla. “In about 12 years of experience, I’ve only had one Person of Color in advisory position to me. That was one reason that I shifted from having environmentalism as my hobby and interest to wanting it to become a career field – because I wanted to be the representation that I was seeking out. I had role models from afar, but I didn’t have anyone I could talk to directly about it, who could relate to some things in the same way, and that’s part of why I’m here today, doing what I do. I lead education programs here at SAHC, and I connect with groups of people who are underrepresented in the environmental field. I enjoy sharing that passion for the environment with other people – both in formal settings like classrooms and out in nature. I feel really lucky to be part of a cohort of underrepresented people coming up in the environmental field and becoming professionals in it.”

In addition to regularly scheduled programming, LaKyla organizes diverse outings and one-off programs with diverse groups. In March, she led a walk for Girl Scouts of Southern Appalachians group along a stretch of the Tweetsie Trail, a rails-to-trails project traversing the former East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad right-of-way between Johnson City and Elizabethton. Joined by SAHC Board member and avid historian Mary Fanslow, the group learned about the history of the “Tweetsie” railroad, constructed in 1882 to connect Johnson City to iron ore mines in the Cranberry Community of NC. The line also transported other goods and provided access for people in isolated mountain communities.

Roan Stewardship staff recently took to the schools to provide a look at conservation, critters, and potential career paths for students in both Tennessee and North Carolina.

Flying Squirrels for 3rd Grade

Roan Stewardship Director Marquette Crockett gave a special presentation to her nephew’s third grade class at Lincoln Memorial University’s J. Frank White Academy about the formation of “sky islands” in Appalachia and the rare plants and animals that live in these cloudland conifer forests. Students learned about Red Crossbills, spruce-fir moss spiders, and Carolina Northern flying squirrels. They saw flying squirrel nest box contents, mimicked Saw-whet Owl calls, and used a giant ball of yarn to create a “food web” to better understand the connections between these rare plants and animals. The group talked about how environmental changes like the weather or ecological changes like overpopulation could change the whole ecosystem (the food web got very tangled and broken several times).

“It was so much fun and so inspiring to hear such insightful questions from the kids,” says Marquette. “They asked about what challenges these species faced in their environments, what they could do to help, and what SAHC does to help. When I told them SAHC has protected more than 80,000 acres, I asked if anyone knew how much an acre was. One said “that’s just the size of my backyard” and all the kids got it instantly – 80,000 backyards make a big impression! We left the class with Freddy the Flying Squirrel coloring sheets and some “field snacks”. The high point of the entire event was when my 13-year old niece, Mary, bravely donned a flying squirrel costume and pulled out some dance moves! We left with lots of hugs.”

Park Greer at left stands to present to a class of seating students at Mayland Community College Early College High School, about careers in conservation.

Mayland Early College

On Friday, February 23, Preserve Manager Park Greer presented to two of the classes at Mayland Early College High School about the SAHC’s role in land conservation and careers in conservation.  Established in 2008, Mayland Early College High School sits on the campus of Mayland Community College in Spruce Pine, NC. It draws in students from Mitchell, Avery and Yancey counties, enrolling approximately 145 students each year. Situated in the quiet foothills of Avery County, Mayland Early College High School seemed the perfect place teach students about careers in conservation.
Park began with a slideshow of SAHC’s role in protecting over 80,000 acres of land in North Carolina and  Tennessee. The presentation highlighted SAHC’s mission of protecting land with significant ecological, scenic, and recreational value future generations.

Following the presentation, Park regaled the students with his own professional journey in the field of conservation. A graduate of Eastern Kentucky University, Park holds a bachelor’s degree in Outdoor Recreation and Park Administration. Park worked full-time with Tennessee State Parks before moving to North Carolina. After working for two years with a local land surveying company, Park found his calling at the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy. Park‘s story sparked several questions from students who are starting to seriously consider their majors, colleges, and future career paths.