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The Wildlife Leadership Academy is looking for youth ages 14-17 and teachers to serve as adult mentors for an educational program focusing on wildlife conservation and leadership development. The Academy’s mission is to empower youth to become ambassadors for wildlife conservation to ensure a sustained wildlife legacy for future generations. Participants attend five-day field schools and

apply their knowledge through year-round service and outreach in their communities. Two field schools will be offered this year: Pennsylvania Bucktails focuses on white-tailed deer, and will take place at Stone Valley Recreation Area in Petersburg (Huntingdon County) on June 18-22. Pennsylvania Brookies focuses on brook trout and coldwater fisheries, and will take place at Sieg Conference Center in Hermitage (Clinton County) on July 9-13.

The Academy is a cooperative initiative led by the Pennsylvania Institute for Conservation Education, with instructors from government agencies, nonprofits and universities including Kutztown University, Pennsylvania Game Commission, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, Pennsylvania State University, Quality Deer Management Association, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “The high caliber and sheer number of conservation professionals who are involved as instructors in this program are beyond impressive, but more than that is the commitment of time, energy and passion that each of these instructors gives to the students,” said ecologist and instructor Lisa Smith.

Participants learn about wildlife and fisheries biology, habitat management, research techniques and nature photography through classroom and field experiences. They develop communication and leadership skills through team-building activities, educational presentations, and mock town hall meetings. Brook Martin of York County described the program as “life-changing.” He shared, “I was able to reach my full potential and find a career path that I feel will be very rewarding. It was an experience that I will cherish and remember the rest of my life.”

The field schools prepare youth to conduct service and outreach relating to environmental education, wildlife and conservation biology, art and/or media engagement. Each participant commits to completing at least three service and outreach activities during the year, and participants who complete the most are rewarded with field trips, opportunities to return as mentors the following year, and college scholarships. To date, Academy graduates have conducted over 600 service and outreach projects, engaged in more than 2500 contact hours with the public, and reached an audience of more than 10,000 Pennsylvania citizens across 46 counties in the state.

Molly Diefenbach of Centre County gave an educational presentation to the Conservation Officers of Pennsylvania Association (COPA) and wrote an article for their magazine, The Greenline. “I was surprised by how accomplished and proud I felt after completing each outreach activity, whether it was speaking to a crowd of 200 or finishing up another entry in my nature journal alone in the woods," she reflected.

COPA member Bernie Schmader was impressed by Molly. “Her article and oral report reassures our members and others that there are intelligent, interested, dedicated and understanding young people who are preparing to step up and carry on in our efforts to promote and safeguard Pennsylvania’s precious fish, wildlife and other natural resources.”

"We hope these youth will inspire others to care more and therefore act more on behalf of the environment,” expressed Academy Director Michele Kittell. The participants are “the next generation to speak for wildlife conservation,” she added.

Field school applications are available at Youth applications must be submitted by April 1, and adult mentor applications must be submitted by March 1. Participating teachers will receive room and board and 40 hours of Act 48 credits. For more information, contact Michele Kittell at [email protected] or (570)245-8518.
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