Monday, June 29, 2009

Green Leadership Academy: The GLADE Model

How long has it been since I posted to Conservation Conversations? Sure, a new grandson's arrival in North Carolina prompted a brief and boastful offering from me. As a result, life will never be the same over at The Drinking Bird, but it has clearly changed for the better, and hope springs anew.
Today I bask in the afterglow of highly successful Greater Ozarks Audubon Society effort in environmental education. GLADE came to us last fall as a result of a TogetherGreen innovation grant award. Funded by Toyota Motors and administered by the National Audubon Society, our TogetherGreen grant award was one of only 41 nationwide, and opportunity knocked loudly on the GOAS door.

A perfect storm of sorts brought an eclectic and insightful group of educators together for the project. Lisa Berger, local Audubon activist and visionary, sat with Dr. Janice Greene, Missouri State University Biology Professor specializing in evaluation of science education programs, in a local Panera restaurant and talked about possibilities, forming the framework for a bird camp. I had recently retired from full time teaching and was actively seeking opportunities to increase my role in the conservation movement. When I received an offer from Lisa to direct the new project, I remember replying immediately, "Yes, Yes, Yes", as a wave of gratitude swept over me. Celeste Prussia, manager of the Missouri State Bull Shoals Field Station in Drury-Mincy Conservation Area, joined the team with her exuberant spirit and her expertise in ecological and sustainability issues.

And so our camp plans began. Long a lover of acronyms, I offered up GLADE, Green Leadership Academy for Diverse Ecosystems. It seemed right for our project as it was to be set in the White River Glades and Woodland Important Bird Area (IBA), a region that was once inhabited by Swainson's Warbler and Bachman's Sparrow. Our first mission was evident: to increase biodiversity in hopes of bringing Swainson's Warbler and Bachman's Sparrow, along with other Giant Cane inhabiting species back in sustainable numbers.

In addition, we recruited highly intelligent young conservationists into an academically rigorous, hands on experience in conservation biology. Sixteen high schoolers, pre-screened by area biology teachers, were selected from many highly qualified youth applicants. Experts in the biological field, conservation professionals, and graduate students were brought in daily to expose the students to scientific research, to share their knowledge and insight with the participants, and to illustrate how the scientific method is used to shape public policy in conservation. Our second mission fell into place: to create a new generation of environmental leaders, and closely tie them to the Ozarks bioregional network of "green partners".

Coming from a background in gifted education, I assembled an initiative game based protocol, teaching leadership from the bottom up, and using natural analogies (a simplified example, trees grow strong foundations and reach for the sky, humans should do this, too) to complement the intensive field biology curriculum. We aimed to teach grass roots leadership skills to the young adults: every person has a niche, everyone is a leader, one's role is essential in group problem solving, the challenge is to discern one's role and speak the truth when necessary. Natural extroverts were taught to listen to nature, and to their peers for solutions to challenges presented. Natural introverts were taught that even very small voices, often insightful, hold the key to solutions.
And so the stage was set. The students arrived. More on that tomorrow. I promise.

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