School holds Youth Conservation Leadership Summit

MOUNT JACKSON —  Attention to world sustainability and environmentalism is alive and well at the Massanutten Regional Governor’s School.

The first Youth Conservation Leadership Summit was held Thursday at the school. Kara Bates, agro-ecology teacher at the Massanutten Regional Governor’s school, has been organizing the event, which is co-sponsored by the Lord Fairfax Soil & Water Conservation District, since August.

Julie Bolthouse, agent with the Piedmont Environmental Council, was the conservation leader directing discussions with students Dawit Fasika, 15, of Spotswood High School, James Eaton, 16, and Andrew Dotson, 17, both of Stonewall Jackson High School, Carter Yi, 16, and Alicia Campbell, 17, both of Page County High School and Eva Jordan, 16, of Turner Ashby High School.

There were a total of 10 tables with leaders spurring discussions with kids from her class.

“What is the most pressing environmental problem facing the world today?,” Bolthouse asked them.

Air pollution, climate change, filling up landfills, access to clean water and ecological issues such as loss of biodiversity were a few of the environmental topics that quickly came to the students.

Bolthouse pointed out those are huge issues that can feel overwhelming. She then asked for characteristics of a leader.

Outspoken, a problem solver, a good communicator and knowledgeable, the students said.

Bolthouse added her own.

“You have to be optimistic, come in with energy” she said.

There is a tendency in the environmental field to come in with a problem and just keep stating the problem., she said, before telling the students that once a problem has been identified they have to seek solutions.

“There is no easy solution, keep pursuing, it’s small steps,” Bolthouse said.

Kara Bates said Conservation Leadership is part of the curriculum for her seniors.

The class looks at environmental sustainability and leadership development.

She has found over the years that most students have a natural leadership ability, making the leadership event a natural next step in their development.

“Something like this allows them to fine tune those skills,” Bates said.

She hopes the seniors will mentor juniors and allow for further leadership summits.

The environmental summit also allows for the seniors to make important connections with regional leaders who were also at the event, Bates said.

Those connections should prove useful for the next class the students will take, which will focus on research, she said.

Other leaders participating in the summit were: Don Flegel and Brian Brezinski, both with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Bonnie Mahl with the Virginia Association of Soil & Water Conservation Districts, Joan Comanor, Nick Livesay, Dana Gochenour and Richard Hoover, all from the Lord Fairfax Soil & Water Conservation District,  Steve Baker from the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors, Lemuel Hancock of the Town of Woodstock,  Jordan Herring with the Virginia Department of Forestry and John Eckman with the Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River.