A peer of mine at DSST: Byers High School, whom I have known for over five years now, has an inspiring love for elephants. She hosted a fundraiser at our school to send a donation to the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee and raised over $700 in a single day. All of this was facilitated and supported by The Elevation Project, an incredible non-profit that her mother had started several years earlier. Collaborating with the school, T.E.P. has become part of the electives program at the school, and encourages students, especially in their junior year, to pursue research in a certain field and create some sort of project, perhaps a documentation or oral presentation, to share with a panel at Metro State University to compete for scholarships and demonstrate their passions. Known as a personal leadership project, these students will present at the Education in Environmental Conservation Summit next summer. This was the program through which my peer, and the founder’s daughter, was able to get in contact with the Elephant Sanctuary and begin her own journey towards better understanding and engaging with elephants and their threatened existence.
However, T.E.P. is an organization far larger than DSST electives and driving its students to share their ideas. Each summer, the non-profit’s founder, Maria Ragusa, hosts a week-long trip to Roosevelt National Park, up past Jamestown. The trip is five nights and six days, and students have the opportunity to travel around the park, learn from the rangers, and participate in volunteer work to help the environment. In past years, having gone on the trip myself, it has been an amazing week of cutting down small pines on the forest floor – they pose a fire risk to the entire forest – hauling logs of larger trees that have been felled due to over-density, trekking through the fields and woods to find bird boxes and recording their contents for a nationally recognized study, rebuilding trails after floods, and helping set up campsites for campers to use all summer long.
The group has been relatively small in past years, allowing us students to form strong relationships with one another. The goal of the trip is for us to learn not only about the environment, but dig into our leadership and collaborative skills; as a result, most of the trip is driven by students with minimal direction from Ms. Ragusa. Her organization stops at coordinating with the park on what projects they would like for students to take on, buying food, delegating chores, and prompting nightly discussions on what we learned and valued about the new project each day. Students get to cook and clean, and any free time is up to them as to how to spend it. In past years, this has included hiking several trails down to Cal Wood’s mica mines and small waterfall, mountain biking, and, most popular of all, playing Egyptian Rat Slap. The group is able to work hard during the day, but in the evenings and late at night when it’s pitch black, the scary stories do serve for some frights that can be remembered for years and years.
Overall, this student certainly gives the summer program an 11/10. It’s personally been an opportunity for self-expression, friendship building, and some hard work that makes me feel like I am making a difference in the larger Colorado community. The program is only a week long, but a week of camping in the woods is certainly enough time to make you remember what it actually means to get away from society and spend some quality time with a group of motivated, passionate, and empathetic people. After all, The Elevation Project’s mission statement: