Deer, trout, grouse, bear focused summer field school opportunities for teens and teachers

The Wildlife Leadership Academy is now accepting applications for their 2015 summer field schools from youth ages 14-17 and adults. Adults serve as mentors and participate alongside the students. School teachers are encouraged to apply as mentors.
The Wildlife Leadership Academy is a year-round program that focuses on wildlife/fisheries conservation and leadership development. The mission of the Academy is to empower youth to become ambassadors for wildlife conservation in order to ensure a sustained wildlife legacy for future generations.
The Academy begins with an intensive, five day residential field school experience that focuses on a fish or wildlife species as a springboard for exploring biology, habitat, and conservation issues. Youth also develop leadership skills engaging in team-building activities, educational presentations, and mock “town hall” meetings on current topics.
Four field schools are available for youth and adults to apply to this summer: Pennsylvania Bucktails, white-tailed deer focus at Stone Valley Recreation Area in Huntingdon County, June 16-20; Pennsylvania Brookies, brook trout and coldwater conservation focus at Sieg Conference Center in Clinton County,  July 7-11;  Pennsylvania Drummers, Ruffed Grouse focus at Powdermill Nature Reserve in Westmoreland County, July 21-25, and Pennsylvania Ursids, black bear focus at Stone Valley Recreation Area in Huntingdon County, August 2-6.
As a result of the intensive field school training, students develop leadership skills and considerable knowledge about conservation issues specific to the theme of the Wildlife Leadership Academy program that they attended.   Following their field school experience, students complete conservation outreach in their home communities that focuses on environmental education, community service, media engagement, and/or participation in the arts.
Student Luke Benzinger of York County describes his participation in the program as “life changing”.
He shared, “My whole life changed since attending the Wildlife Leadership Academy where I talked to so many knowledgeable adults who wanted to spend time with other teenagers that were there with me.  These adults opened my eyes to what I could do to teach everyone else in the world about the passion I have for the outdoors.”
A New Addition – The Black Bear-Focused Field School
Led by the Pennsylvania Institute for Conservation Education, the Wildlife Leadership Academy is a cooperative initiative and brings the experts to the students. Participants are taught by and interact with conservation professionals daily.  These professionals represent agencies, conservation organizations and universities from across the state.
For the first time, the Institute is adding a bear-focused field school, Pennsylvania Ursids, to the summer line up.
Wildlife biologist, Gary Alt, who coordinated the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s black bear research and management program for over 25 years, and who has also been involved with the Wildlife Leadership Academy summer program since its start in 2007, will be leading the instruction and development of the bear-focused field school.
Gary notes his respect for the Wildlife Leadership Academy program and the importance of teaching the next generation of conservation leaders, “For me, it has been an amazing inspiration and honor to be involved in a program that literally changes the lives of impressionable young students, providing them with new tools and confidence to succeed in life, and providing society with hope, support, and leadership skills for the conservation challenges that will arise long after we are gone.”
An Opportunity for School Teachers
The Academy offers an incredible opportunity, not only for Pennsylvania youth, but for teachers as well to be engaged in a high quality, inspirational and unique educational setting. Teachers learn alongside the youth participants, serving as the primary mentors for the youth as they push themselves academically.  Teachers who participate also have the opportunity to receive college credits and/or 40 ACT credits.
Adult participant Claire Orner described the experience as well thought-out.
In reference to  the Wildlife Leadership Academy, she said, “It is welcoming and fun; challenging with the ability to stretch each participant to grow; inspiring with dedicated instructors and staff to ensure success and growth; and supportive as they set up collaborative networking and professional development for both adult and youth participants.“
Youth Participants Become Community Leaders
Students return to their communities sharing what they have learned.  They keep a record book of their conservation outreach efforts. Top outreach achievements qualify students for educational field trips, opportunities to return to field school tuition-free as mentors, and for college scholarships.  Through field school and outreach projects, students learn and implement valuable life skills, such as leadership, communication, and responsibility.
Kayley Dillon of Columbia County, a student at the Pennsylvania Bucktails field school commented, “Wildlife Leadership Academy has made me so much more confident in myself. Before field school, I hated being the center of attention and making presentations. Now I’m the first person to volunteer for everything.”
Academy youth have taken their mission to be ambassadors for conservation to heart.  To date, graduates have conducted 932 conservation education, communication, and service projects; engaged in more than 4,000 contact hours with the public; and reached an audience of more than 20,000 Pennsylvania citizens across the commonwealth.
With 200 students coming through the Academy over the last eight years, Institute Director Michele Kittell said, “These participants are the next generation to speak for conservation of our natural resources.”
“We believe the leadership of Academy youth in their home communities will inspire others to care more, and therefore act more on behalf of conservation and the environment,” she said.
Applications for the 2015 field schools can be downloaded at www.PICEweb.org. The application deadline is April 1, 2015 for youth and adult mentors.
The Wildlife Leadership Academy is a cooperative initiative involving state agencies and conservation organizations and is administered by the Pennsylvania Institute for Conservation Education whose mission is to connect people, nature and community.
Expert instructors at the field school include representatives from Kutztown University, Pennsylvania Game Commission, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, Pennsylvania State University, the Ruffed Grouse Society, Trout Unlimited, Quality Deer Management Association, and many more.
For more information, contact Institute Director, Michele Kittell, at mkittell@piceweb.org or (570)245-8518 or Program Coordinator, Katie Cassidy at kcassidy@piceweb.org or (570)939-5109.  You can also connect with the Academy on Facebook (facebook.com/wildlifeleadershipacademy).
Editor’s Note: If you would like to interview a student about their experience, email Program and Outreach Coordinator, Katie Cassidy at kcassidy@piceweb.org.  Students from the following counties attended in 2014: Adams, Allegheny, Beaver, Berks, Blair, Bucks, Cameron, Carbon, Centre, Chester, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Columbia, Cumberland, Erie, Indiana, Jefferson, Lancaster, Lehigh, McKean, Mercer, Mifflin, Montgomery, Northumberland, Perry, Washington, York.