Rock Creek Conservancy doubles summer youth program

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Fred Chopin of Capital City Public Charter School surveys his work as part of the Rock Creek Conservancy's summer youth program. (photo by Katie Schuler)
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The Rock Creek Conservancy has doubled its four-week RC3 youth summer initiative this year, bringing in 40 students from three D.C. high schools to work as employees of the nonprofit organization for the summer months.

Since 2005, the conservancy has worked to restore and protect the 33 miles of Rock Creek and the surrounding parkland in the D.C. area. This summer job opportunity sought to increase and extend youth involvement in the organization, according to program manager Erica Carlsson.

Roosevelt High School students Malachi Williams (left) and Fey Adefris were among the participants in the RC3 program this summer in Rock Creek Park. (photo by Katie Schuler)

The young environmentalists participating in the Rock Creek Conservancy Corps summer program spend one week getting to know each other and training with experienced crew leaders, many of whom are local science teachers, and then three weeks working on important ecological projects in Rock Creek parks and the surrounding area.

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A multi-year grant from the wide-ranging nonprofit Fund II Foundation has enabled the program to expand from only one crew of students in 2015 — the program’s inaugural year — to four crews just two summers later. Now, RC3 brings in students from three of its partner schools: Capital City Public Charter School, E.L. Haynes Public Charter School and Roosevelt High School. The grant will finance the incorporation of more students from more schools in future years. But according to Carlsson, the most significant impact of the program’s growth is its depth.

Three years ago, a recruitment session at Capital City drew six people, she said. This year, nearly a third of the eligible students attended. “We are really creating an awesome culture in that community,” Carlsson said.

The organization has a year-round presence in many of these schools, working with teachers on urban ecology curricula and bringing on students as volunteers. For the summers, though, eligible students apply for paid positions as crew members.

Frank Rawlings of Capital City and Emerzon Giron of Roosevelt were among the program’s young conservationists. (photo by Katie Schuler)

During this year’s program, from June 26 to July 21, crew members helped the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission remove invasive exotic plants in the northern part of the watershed; eliminated the bush honeysuckle near the Carter Barron Amphitheatre in Brightwood; cleared exotic species from Piney Branch Parkway NW in Crestwood; and helped to prevent runoff at the Audubon Naturalist Society in Chevy Chase, Md., by planting trees and bushes along the slope near the site’s mansion.

In addition to gaining technical skills, this program has galvanized student workers. Merelyn Giron, a 2017 crew member from Roosevelt High, told The Current that she is enjoying the work, especially invasive plant removal. “We want to get more people to actually help out with the park, because there’s a lot more work to be done and this is just a start to it,” said Giron, who plans to major in environmental science in college.

Carlsson echoed these sentiments, emphasizing the importance of environmental awareness in youth. The program helps students grow into “more confident leaders for the environment,” she said — “whether they are just doing something during their high school years to clean up the park near their home, or they are taking this into the future in whatever career they pursue.”

This post has been updated to correct a photo caption that had previously misidentified Fred Chopin.