On the first day of school, if asked to describe how they spent the summer, 10 Ocean Lakes High School (OLHS) students can recount an adventure as big as the great outdoors. In July, they participated in the No Barriers Youth Climate Change Academy in Alaska.
A collaborative program with the National Park Service (NPS), the 11-day wilderness adventure focuses on gaining an interdisciplinary understanding of climate change. The students, led by OLHS science teacher Laura Wood, witnessed the effects of climate change firsthand and learned about the cause and possible solutions to the issue.
“As a teacher, it was the opportunity I had always dreamed about and I am so glad I was able to share that experience with my Ocean Lakes students,” Wood said. “It is hard to leave an experience like that and not feel inspired or empowered to make changes.”
The program actually began in the spring with pre-travel lessons covering climate change science, cultures, personal leadership and community service.
Once in Alaska, the Ocean Lakes contingent teamed with No Barriers Youth and NPS staff, getting oriented to the region’s natural and cultural history and learning wilderness skills.
During the expedition students traveled to Kenai Fjords National Park where they hiked to Exit Glacier and worked with the NPS to collect glacial retreat data to gain a better understanding of the effects of the changing climate. They also participated in a full day wildlife and glacier cruise where they collected water quality data to investigate impacts of melting glaciers and made observations with a scientist from the Alaska Sea Life Center.
The young researchers visited the 8 Mile Lake Research site to study the effects of climate change on permafrost. They also spent several days hiking in Denali National Park, home to North America’s highest mountain, Mount McKinley. While in the Denali backcountry, the group went on daylong hikes and participated in a variety of hands-on field science activities that left a lasting impression.
“To know that something so large and seemingly untouchable could be changed by human actions, it just showed that the world is bigger than you imagined,” said senior Chris Lucy, “and that you play a larger role than you believe.”
When the students returned home, they began thinking of the academy’s third phase; using their new insight to make a change locally. The group will begin a public awareness at the Hampton Roads Sustainable Living Expo in September.
“Individuals have a responsibility to take care of the planet however they can,” said senior Emma Hultin. “We need to preserve it for the future so everyone gets to experience our unique and incredible planet.”