Earth Bridge Project

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When rural students from minority backgrounds � particularly those who are lower income and first generation college � go on to higher education, most feel a sense of separation and culture shock that affects their self-esteem and consequent academic performance. Alienated, and sometimes lacking understanding of their situation from home, too often they drop out. In New Mexico, where the majority of high school graduates are lower income, and/or Chicano/Latino or Native American, this syndrome of dropping out results in a dearth of well-educated young leaders. Higher education and leadership are particularly critical in our state for effective protection of sacred or wild lands and cultural traditions. To address these issues, Southwest College Horizons (SWCH), a New Mexico nonprofit organization whose mission is to increase awareness of postsecondary educational opportunities for lower income, rural students and their parents, with the collaboration of the Santa Fe Mountain Center, a nonprofit resource center for education and health services that conducts experiential and adventure-based programs in educational, therapeutic, and professional arenas, and eleven other non-profit organizations, is sponsoring The Earth Bridge Project, a wilderness-based, intercultural environmental education program. The purpose of this project is to heighten self-esteem, deepen understanding and respect for one’s own cultural heritage and that of others, improve intercultural communication, and build leadership and wilderness skills. Our pilot group will be sixteen promising Native American, Chicano/Latino, and Anglo junior and senior high school students. Building on the earth-honoring traditions of many of our students, we will also focus on concepts of wilderness, land preservation, biodiversity, and sustainable agriculture. These activities will engender a heightened awareness of the connectedness of people with each other and to the land, and provide motivation for our students to act for the earth. To help meet our goals for Earth Bridge and assure cultural sensitivity and relevance, an ethnically diverse core staff of experts in environmental and leadership education and intercultural relations, was assembled. Whitney Laughlin, executive director of Southwest College Horizons, has led intercultural activities and has also worked with Native American and Chicano/Latino students as a college counselor and wilderness and field trip leader. Jono McKinney, project coordinator, is a senior instructor with the National Outdoor Leadership School. He is an expert at teaching skills for safe wilderness travel and living, and emphasizes the development of Earth-nurturing land ethics. His experience working with Native Americans began in 1985 when he advised Navajo students while teaching at the Fountain Valley School, a college preparatory boarding school in Colorado. Charla Haugh, a Jicarilla Apache from New Mexico, is a staff member at the Santa Fe Mountain Center with expertise in leading experientially-based prescriptive programming for adjudicated youth. She has initiated and coordinated the development of courses for Native American adolescents while at the Mountain Center and has broad experience with New Mexico community wellness programs. Roberto Garcia, assistant director of admission at Colorado College where he also coordinates efforts to increase enrollment of different racial and ethnic students, was the interagency coordinator for the All-Indian Pueblo Council, University of New Mexico Pueblo Teacher Training Program, and an outreach counselor for L.U.L.A.C. Roberto is Chicano/Latino and his wife is from Cochiti Pueblo. (See appendix for resumes.) To advise this core staff, a group of Chicano/Latino, Native American, and Anglo community leaders and representatives from eleven non-profit organizations in New Mexico, has joined together to plan the project and help assure that the programming is culturally relevant and sensitive to these distinct cultures. They will also assist by identifying potential candidates to be accepted for the project. Several of these groups and individuals � Seeds of Change, Native Seeds Search, Lighthawk, Permaculture Drylands Institute, The Tracking Project, the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, Dr. Greg Cajete (Santa Clara Pueblo), Celina Rael de Garcia (Girls Incorporated of Santa Fe), and Tieraona (medical student and native herbs specialist) � are volunteering their time in presenting workshops during a two-day midcourse basecamp section. These leaders will be excellent resources to identify potential post-course internship options for our students. There will be three phases to this project. In late spring, to identify and orient our students, we will host two activities which will include parents. Then, in July, within the context of a sixteen-day wilderness expedition � our metaphor for a new and challenging experience, much like college � real outdoor travel and living tasks, problem-solving and team-building initiatives, and single and intercultural discussions focusing on heritage, values, environmental ethics, and leadership styles, will facilitate this learning. After the course, SWCH will provide on-going college counseling, and a community leader/advisor will help each student identify and implement a related project in the home community. Also, during fall and winter, three follow-up weekend outdoor activities will enable the group to get back together, develop further outdoor skills, discuss community project progress, and support new concerns engendered by the summer program. Our budget of $50,000 reflects a year-long program beginning in spring of 1993 and continuing until our senior-year students are accepted to college in spring of 1994. This budget contains a wilderness component for the Santa Fe Mountain Center and a planning, administration, and counseling component for Southwest College Horizons. Of note, is an honorarium of $600 per student as compensation for summer and weekend job earnings needed by these lower-income students to help support their families. Our long-term goal is to replicate the Earth Bridge Project in schools and communities throughout New Mexico and the Four Corners area. Funding for these programs will be sought through leveraging matching funds both locally and nationally. Return to Main Workshops Page
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