ECHS Students Visit Washington DC

Green Ambassadors "Hiked the Hill" to share about the importance of urban community members accessing public land.

Check out what the Pacific Crest Trail has to share about our Green Ambassadors!

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February 10, 2016

Four students from the Environmental Charter High School in Los Angeles wrapped up their Washington D.C. visit today with a trip to Capitol Hill.

These amazing youths and their teacher joined our annual Hike the Hill event, part of the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA)'s partnership with their school. It was the second time in two years that ECHS and PCTA have brought students to Washington, D.C.

For a week every February, PCTA volunteers and staff visit with members of Congress and federal land management agencies to advocate for the PCT and federal appropriations for trails. We join many other trail groups from across the country, all members of the Partnership for the National Trails System. Jocelyne Contero, Ogechi Hubert, Danny Sanchez and Paolo Juarez walking the street of Washington D.C. on their trip to build support for the Pacific Crest Trail.

The ECHS students are part of our advocacy effort. They spoke Tuesday to officials with the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management about their experiences on PCTA trail maintenance projects over the last several years. While 10 volunteers and six PCTA staffers have been meeting with members of Congress and their staffs all week, the student presentations were arguably the most powerful.

The students are Paolo Juarez, 16; Danny Sanchez, 16; Ogechi Hubert, 16; and Jocelyne Contero, 17. All are juniors except Paolo, who is a senior. They are part of the school’s Green Ambassadors program, said their teacher, Sammy Lyon. PCT hiker "Special Agent" gave the students a behind the scenes tour of the Capitol.

[Photo] Taking a moment at the Rosa Parks statue.

A former teacher started the charter school in 2000 with a curriculum that includes looking at the world through an environmental lens. From trail maintenance projects to sustainability audits at Los Angeles companies, they gain practical experience, do community service, and find something within themselves that several said will serve them through college and into their careers.

On Tuesday afternoon, they spoke eloquently to a room filled with trail group representatives and U.S. Forest Service officials – including Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell – about what they gained from their time on the PCT. The audience was captivated from the first word.

“They are super committed,” Lyon said. “It’s amazing to be able to do this with these students.” ECHS students and their teacher with Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California's 43rd district.


[Photo] Environmental Charter School Green Ambassadors with Maxine Waters

Paolo, who was the only one to join PCTA in Washington, D.C. last year, said he learned about teamwork when he joined a work party on the PCT east of Los Angeles. “I was able to have genuine interactions,” he said. “I realized that it matters more that we have a focus and a common cause.”
He is very determined, and said his time in the program was a catalyst for his passion for the environment.

Danny was next and flashed a great smile. He told the crowd about camping in the snow near Buckhorn, and how, as “an L.A. boy,” it was totally unexpected.

“Later that day we actually had a snowball fight,” he said as the officials in the room chuckled. “That was cool!” The PCT is an introduction to the world. For this group, it's also an introduction to America's capitol.

He said he learned about unity on the trail. “I felt that we were a family. The leaders really rub off on me. These trips really show me what I want to do in my life.”

Jocelyne told of her plans to be a doctor, and said working on a team on the PCT taught her about the collaboration she’ll need to work in a hospital setting. “You really need other people to help you out,” she said.

She also said she felt privileged to be on the trail, and she shared that there are not many people from minority populations who are aware of it. Ogechi echoed that issue.

“There is an evident lack of diversity in green spaces,” she said. “I feel really privileged to know about the PCT. It’s public land and we should all know about it.”


[Photo] On a day trip to Georgetown.

Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell addressed the group and was clearly touched by their messages. He said he was somewhat amazed that, in this country, we haven’t done a better job to connect people in cities with the outdoors given the economic and public health benefits.

“Thank you for the gift,” he said. “All your stories were an inspiration to me. You all have a powerful voice. Keep making a difference.”

At the end of the meeting, Chief Tidwell took a selfie with the students, cracking a big smile.

After the Forest Service visit, the students gave similar talks to officials with the BLM. Afterward at a dinner at Union Station, the students shared their impressions of the time talking to leaders of the federal land agencies. Chief Tidwell, leader of the U.S. Forest Service, takes a selfie with the group after hearing them speak about how important the PCT is to them.

[Photo] Chief Tidwell, leader of the U.S. Forest Service, takes a selfie with the group after hearing them speak about their relationship with the trail.

“It made me feel like what I say really matters,” Ogechi said. “A lot of times, people don’t pay attention to kids.”

Danny felt the same way. “It made me feel like people cared about what we talked about,” he said.

“I felt like I had a voice, like talking could make a change,” Jocelyne echoed. “We were empowered to make a change.”

Paolo had a little something to add.

“The advocacy we are doing is not just about the environment,” he said. “We’re also a voice for youth.”

At PCTA, we’re very proud of these students and their accomplishments both on and off the trail. We can’t wait to see what each of you tackles next.


[Photo] On a private, behind the scenes tour of the Capitol, graciously organized by PCT thru-hiker "Special Agent". Thank you!
Originally published at