Five Central Consolidated School District high school students and a 2016 graduate spent several weeks in the summer of 2016 building and maintaining trails in the Hiawatha National Forest on the U.P.—the upper peninsula of Michigan.
“It was really green, really different, and the fact there was a lake in front of us gave us an opportunity to swim a lot,” Newcomb High School senior Corminda Henry said about being at the Clear Lake Education Center on the U.P., tightly sandwiched between Lake Superior to the north and Lake Michigan to the south.
The other CCSD students on the trip were Dominick Banyacya and Danielina White-Nutumya of Kirtland Central High; Nicolas Cambridge of Shiprock High, and Rihana Long of Newcomb High. Ryan Lee, who also attended, is a 2016 graduate of Shiprock High.
“They were clearing trails for the U.S. Forest Service, getting rid of all the brush and debris,” said Matt Jopek, assistant principal at Kirtland Central High School. “They were also doing trail marking—marking the trail for hikers in the area.”
Jopek and his family were on vacation in neighboring Wisconsin and made a visit to the Clear Lake Education Center on the U.P. to see how the CCSD students were doing.
Asked what the most challenging thing was—besides working outdoors in the humidity—Nicolas said, “Missing my family, because I had never been away from them that long.”
They worked alongside a small group of students from Washington D.C., Oakland, San Diego, and Sioux City, Iowa.
“They told us what life was like in the city,” Corminda said. “It was amazing. They sounded so sophisticated,” adding they said they had never met Native Americans before.
“Some of them asked me if we lived in Tee-Pees and rode horses,” she said. “I told them about (Navajo) Hogans. They didn’t know what a corral was so I explained that to them. … They didn’t know what Mutton was until we told them we butchered sheep. They all got shocked.”
Their Youth Conservation Corps, which went from mid-June to mid-July, was made possible by MoblizeGreen.org. The students—who filled out an application, a letter of interest, and received a recommendation from a teacher—received a salary for their work, and had their airfare, meals, and lodging in cabins paid for.
“I took the opportunity to try, and turned in everything. We had to do a resume about why we wanted to work there, and why we wanted to go. I was happy about being selected,” Nicolas said.
The students took a side-trip during their third week to Eagle River, Wisconsin at Trees for Tomorrow, before heading back to the Clear Lake Education Center for their fourth week. They also went to Lake Superior.
“The (Youth Conservation Corps) program provided our students with an incredible opportunity to make a direct and positive impact,” said Jeff Sagor, assistant principal at Shiprock High School.
Sagor and Melissa Maestas, coordinator of secondary schools, dropped off and picked up the students from the Albuquerque International Sunport airport.
“They had an opportunity to fly halfway across the country and participate in a program with students from all over the country,” Maestas said. “They made friends and had experiences they never had before. It was great (Interim Superintendent) Dr. Bowman made this possible for our students.”
Photos by Will DuPraw, MobilizeGreen