New Roots Program Golden Eagle Audubon Society

Bags of trash in hand, nine students took to the trails of Eagle Island State Park. Their goal: collect litter, learn about nature, and monitor recently installed bird boxes within park bounds. The students talked excitedly amongst themselves, asking questions about wildlife and local flora.

This was one of many stops the group would make over the course of two weeks. Later they planned to explore Celebration Park and go hiking on Bogus Basin. And despite this summer's blistering heat, spirits were high and the students were ready to learn!

Since its inception in 2014, the New Roots Program has collected over 40 pounds of trash.

Formed in 2014 by Liz Urban, Education Chair for the Golden Eagle Audubon Society, and Dr. Megan Jones, the New Roots Program (NRP) is focused on "engaging underrepresented youth in place-based, environmental education." It is offered to middle school and high school-aged refugee and immigrant youth. They partner with scientists, teachers, and other industry professionals and lead daily field trips. Students build bird nesting boxes, learn about outdoor recreation etiquette, monitor animal species, and so much more.

"In 2013, I received support from National Audubon Society to develop an environmental education experience for refugee youth here in Boise, Idaho. I met Dr. Megan Jones, an ELL teacher of 30+ years, later that year and together we created the New Roots Program (NRP). The NRP is a place-based S.T.E.M. environmental education program designed to engage under-served youth in nature and conservation action." - Liz Urban

New Roots provides food, transportation, and all the gear that the students need for their adventures. And best of all this is at no cost to the students or their families.

Students gathering fishing wire from a disposal station

After a brief introduction to the area, the students began their day by hitting the trails with trash bags, learning about the Leave No Trace principles. Afterward, they funneled a small camera into a bird box to see if it had been occupied. Alas, there were no nesting birds... this time!

"Over the past eight years, we have offered our unique program to more than 120 kids who have come to Idaho from around the world, including: Afghanistan, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, Mexico, Nepal, Somalia, Tanzania, Thailand, and more. Together we have spent more than 6,000 hours in nature and make ever increasing impacts as stewards – planting native plants, collecting garbage, participating in community science efforts, and more."

For their next activity, the group would design structures out of found and natural materials to provide shelter for a small, wooden "person." After the shelters were built, they were put to the test: bottles of water were poured over tops and wind battered the sides. If the wooden person remained dry and protected--the shelter was a success! While each group had a wildly different design method, they all kept their wooden people dry and safe from the elements.

Everyone reconvened under the picnic shelter for some well-deserved snacks and Gatorade. And of course, to see who won the trash collecting contest! Tomorrow, they would be on their way to Celebration Park for another day of nature and education!

"The real measure for success for us is our extremely high participation retention rate and the significant number of students that ask to return year after year. Building mentorship relationships with students is paramount and as educators, we feel so privileged to guide new experiences that are meant to increase student’s sense of place and sense of security in their new homes. Student’s have reported returning to public lands we visit during NRP with their families, providing evidence that we are affecting real change and that the program has ripple-effects in communities. We have great pride in our students who have started their college journeys, some of who are studying in the sciences, and have welcomed several of these graduates back to the program as leaders."

Learn More

If you would like to learn more about the New Roots Program, visit them online by clicking here or by following them on Facebook.