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  • Conservation interns spend spring break getting back to nature

    While some classmates spent their spring break sleeping in or watching YouTube videos, 11 Sunnyside High School students rebuilt hiking trails, pulled invasive buffelgrass and planted cacti as part of conservation internships offered through a Pima County-led program.

    YCC internsThe internships were part of a partnership with the National Forest Service, National Forest Foundation, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Arizona Conservation Corps and Pima County Joint Technical Education District (JTED) and Pima Youth Career Connect project. 

    Students spent March 20-24 working on priority restoration projects in the Coronado National Forest. The internships gave students an opportunity to participate in environmental conservation, develop leadership skills, and learn about career opportunities in environmental science. 

    Amy Orchard, an education specialist with Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum’s Conservation, Education and Science Department, worked closely with the students all week. 

    "In my 18 years working with teen programming at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, I have never seen a program as powerful as this one," Orchard said. "The energy, wisdom and enthusiasm that was brought to the Interns by the AZCC crew members was magical!"

    At the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum the interns met live animals, learned about career opportunities as a naturalist or wildlife biologist and met their Arizona Conservation Corps mentors. Up on Mount Lemmon, interns learned about geology, flora and fauna, and saw up- close how water damage has eroded many hiking trails. They YCC internsalso began clearing debris and redefining trails.

    In Sabino Canyon, students planted prickly pear cactus to act as a barrier against visitors walking into potentially dangerous areas. A fire scientist also spoke with them about fire dangers.

    Students discussed what they learned on an Earth Conservation Internship (ECI) Facebook page and blog.

    On Mount Lemmon, “we learned that water damage on the trail caused it to have the need to be remodeled to prevent further erosion,” wrote Sophia Garcia and Krisna Lopez on the ECI blog. “It was really eye opening to learn the type of work that is necessary to have a safe and efficient trail.”

    Interns Sharon Vega and Jordan Moreno enjoyed working with Arizona Conservation Corps mentors on the maintenance of a section of the Arizona Trail at Molino Basin.

    “Being able to work with these mentors exposed us to the various leadership skills necessary to work in conservation,” they wrote.

    Students ended the week at Sabino Canyon pulling buffelgrass, an invasive species causing significant damage to the native ecosystem. 

    “By the end of the day we cleared 78,040 square feet of buffelgrass from Rattlesnake Canyon,” wrote Alyssa Vildusea and Mya Phelps-Ulloa, adding, “after that we enjoyed pizza for lunch and also saw a Gila Monster!”

    The student interns are in the bioscience program at Sunnyside High School, which is part of a larger effort to train students for science, technology, engineering and math careers. The program got its start when employers in the growing fields of biotechnology, aviation, health information technology and industrial technology said they needed more well-trained employees. That’s when Pima County’s One-Stop Career Center/ARIZONA@WORK reached out to area partners to develop comprehensive curriculum and training programs to fill that STEM pipeline. 

    The One-Stop administers the programs for more than 920 high school students across Southern Arizona. Many of the students have since moved on to coursework at Pima Community College as part of a $5.4 million Youth Career Connect program supported by the U.S. Department of Labor through June 2018. Other partners are the Tucson Unified School District and nonprofit partner, Tucson Youth Development. Pima County is the grant awardee on behalf of Innovation Frontier Arizona, which also includes Santa Cruz, Cochise and Yuma counties. 
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