Leaving With a Purpose
Margaret Butler

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead

In the past, I remember counting down the days in May before my last day of school. All month my peers and I would anxiously wait until summer vacation when we would finally be released from stressful classes and demanding teachers. Now, as my time at Conserve School comes to a close, my feelings are quite the opposite. I'm going to deeply miss my close friends and peers, my teachers, my classes, Lowenwood, and all of the opportunities I've been given throughout my time at Conserve. Leaving this beautiful place and all the people that I've closely shared the last four months with will be extremely difficult. But returning home with my new experiences and knowledge so that I could better my sending community was also part of my intent of coming to Conserve.

At the beginning of the semester, a goal of mine was to become a better environmental steward. Although this is quite a broad goal, I believe I have accomplished it in several small ways. As all of my classes have been focused on the environment, I've been able to think and learn about the natural world from multiple perspectives, which was one of my goals at the beginning of the semester. Through Science class and the phenology spot project, I've developed a sense of place to a specific spot in Lowenwood. In English and History class I've learned about the history of wilderness in America and also human's relationship with the natural world. Three times we studied these topics through afternoon snowshoe and canoe trips into Sylvania Wilderness. I've created art using supplies derived from nature and learned how to express my appreciation for the environment through my art class. I'm now more comfortable and confident in the wilderness as a result of Outdoor Skills class. I've also expanded my knowledge of stewardship by attending a wide variety of stewardship seminars and projects, such as art as activism. Conserve school classes are rooted in experiential learning and I know that I've absorbed so much from my classes because of this philosophy. Environmental stewardship is incredibly expansive and complex and it's been so beneficial for me to have explored this topic through a variety of lenses in my classes and seminars.

Because of Conserve, I feel like I understand myself better and have a clearer view of my own passions and aspirations. I'm excited to further my work as an environmental steward and apply what I've learned at Conserve to my hometown and all other communities and places I live in my life. I was very inspired by Mark Voss's urban farming presentation and now this summer I'm hoping to work on an organic farm and learn more about sustainable agriculture practices. During my senior year of high school I hope to become much more involved in my school's environmental club. This group is currently very new and I'm eager to lead activities within the club next year. Some upcoming plans for the club so far are to start a compost in our school and to inform the student body about environmental issues and what they can do help. Another immediate undertaking I will start when I return home is implementing my Taking Action Project. My TAP is to teach middle school children at an afterschool program about the environment through art projects and exploration. I've worked at this afterschool program for two years and have long loved working with children. I'm so excited that I am able to combine two of my passions, working with kids and the environment, into a tangible and realistic project. My time at Conserve has also made me think about I can expand these passions of mine even farther than my TAP. I am now interested in somehow leading kids on outdoor trips in the future, possibly through a summer camp. My love for the environment is rooted in all of the outdoor exposure I received as a child, often through camp, and I would love to help students have similar powerful experiences in the wilderness.

Stewardship class has greatly expanded my understanding of activism. There are so many issues I deeply care about: social justice, the environment, animals, the list goes on and on. In any way I can, I want to work to help these causes and I know that I can accomplish this through activism. I can envision myself working for a non-profit, such as the Beehive Collective, that works for these causes someday. Right now, I want to become more involved in activism by attending more protests and possibly organizing events in my community such as get-out-the-vote campaigns. I'm eager to use my voice as an effective tool to make change, on both small and large scales.

Conserve has most definitely been one of the most influential experiences of my life. I've lived in a tight-knit community in which we almost all possess similar passions for the environment, but also have a multitude of diverse backgrounds. I know that I've learned as much from my peers as I have from my teachers. This little corner of the Northwoods has been a lovely home for the past four months and it'll be so painful to leave. But the ending is bittersweet because I know the friendships, memories, and knowledge that I've collected here will not end when I leave Conserve. I'm going to take this amazing opportunity and use it to be a leader in my community and then hopefully someday I'll take it to an even larger scale. The connections I've made at Conserve will only help me in my goals. I'm so grateful to have had this life-changing opportunity and I'm ready to set out and change the world for the better!

Photos by Claudia VanValkenburg