Tips for school-children who want to be conservationists

Naima Montacer is an environmentalist adventurer. She strives to be as “green” as she can and encourages others to do their little bit. Her journey is full of thoughts, wildlife, food, conservation and adventures. Here she shares her advice for young conservationists of the future!

Naima Montacer

I love skyping with students from all over the country. It’s exciting to get them jazzed and excited about the world in front of them, the opportunities that await, and the intrigue of wildlife from around the world. Just recently I skyped with some 6th graders (11-12 years old) from New Jersey who have a lot going for them already, a great teacher. Their teacher maintains a science website for her students giving them a chance to interact online and research links she posts. She does her own research and in that found my website and reached out to skype with her students. I am always happy to chat with students.

The students and teacher inspired me to type up a quick list of ideas and suggestions to take advantage of at their age if they are interested in animals, biology or conservation. After typing it up and sending it to their teacher I realized other students and teachers out there may want this list, so why not post it here. It’s really things I wish I had access to when I was younger. Although, at that time in my life soccer was top priority. Funny enough, the students asked me a bit about my soccer days and why I stopped playing. My simple answer… I had more dreams than just soccer and I was ready to put those first.

Written after chatting with 6th grade students over skype: Some ideas/thoughts if you want to become a wildlife biologist or are interested in conservation.

General thoughts to make it happen: 

  • Get hands on experience.
  • Be inquisitive. Ask questions. Take every opportunity to learn.
  • Be well rounded. One experience may not be exactly what you want but it will provide you with a different view.
  • What are your interests? Try them out!
  • One thing I easily wish I had right now: Knowledge of another language. If I had to choose one it would be Spanish. Many of the US population only speaks Spanish and making people feel more comfortable and confident by speaking their native language would be very helpful. Also, it would benefit my resume and is sometimes required on job applications. So, start early and learn another language!

Ideas on where to start:

  • Volunteer:
    • Do an internet search for conservation organizations in your area.  What are the issues?  What needs to be done?
    • Example: New Jersey: conservewildlifenj.org – they have several different opportunities out in the field.
    • Check age requirements.
    • Some zoos and museums have a Youth Volunteer Program.  Do some research in your area to find programs for your age.
  • Boy Scout/Girl Scout projects:  Take a look at these two Girl Scouts that have grown their project and taken it to the White House.  Do you know what palm oil is and the problems associated with it?  Check out an article in the New York Times on their project.  Your project doesn’t have to be that big.  Start small.
  • Get outside!  Find the parks in your area and explore.  The only tool you need is a notebook and a pencil.  A biologist always takes notes, those notes can help you identify wildlife, track changes in the environment, and makes you take a closer look at what’s in front of you.   Your adventure can be in your backyard.
  • Have fun – what are your passions?  See if you can incorporate what you like into conservation?   I love being outdoors and writing: I have managed to find a way to make all of these part of the work I do for conservation.  Do you like computers? Or videos?  Check out the National Geographic “Wild to Inspire” contest that allows amateur videographers to submit videos.  Just watching some of the videos can be inspiring and seeing that there is a way to get your projects out there!  Click here for a link to the website.
  • Need some money for your project?  Raise it!  Organize a thrift sale, bake sale, or start a crowdfunding website online (kickstarter.com).  Try Terracycle!  Teracycle.com is an organization that turns otherwise non recyclable items into useful products and PAYS you for them!
  • Camps – Get involved in zoo, aquarium, or museum camps.  Testing it out as a participant will give you an opportunity to see if you want to do more.  A lot of times participants can become volunteers and move up.  Building relationships is key.
  • Citizen Science!  Scientists cannot be all over the world at the same time so they rely on us, the general public, to be able to collect data for them!  There are projects on so many different topics, pick one and have some fun.  Many projects also send you information about what the scientists have gathered from the data you collected.  You can do it in your class or at home.  Some topics are backyard birds, 9-spotted ladybugs, sunflowers, clouds, project budburst, frogs, counting seals, etc.  Google “citizen science” or start off at this website: www.citizensciencealliance.org
  • Interact with scientists!  There are several research programs out there where you can read the blogs that scientists post of what they are doing right now, or ask them questions, or even send a postcard to them.  Check out this one about penguin researchers in Antarctica! www.penguinscience.com/classroom_home.php
  • We live in an informational age.  Just be careful because everything on the internet is not correct and there is a lot of bias.  Do your research and check things out with adult guidance.
    • Not having much familiarity with travel or summer programs for middle school students I decided to google search what was out there.  Here are some of the things I found.  I do not know about any of these so they would need some further investigation.  But just to give you an idea, if you are interested in something there are programs and opportunities out there for you.  Start small in your local neighborhood to see what you like and dislike and then search for things you are interested in.  These two are big trips that would take lots of planning and organizing, but just knowing that projects like this are out there can be inspiring!
    • goeducationaltours.com/travel-programs-for-middle-school-and-high-school-students/  – Some of these were at conservation organizations.
    • www.visionsserviceadventures.com/category/Middle-School-Programs

There it is. Things I wish I knew about when I was in sixth grade. I think this may become a series because in high school there are so many more opportunities and then in college the opportunities are endless! My list for college is endless, can’t wait to share.

Check out Naima’s blog at: www.enviroadventures.com

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