After three years of leading CAP, DirtWorks, and so much more at Boulder’s New Vista High School (NVHS), CI Instructor Amy Atkins will be moving on and pursuing new adventures this fall. We were sad to learn she will no longer be teaching CAP, but are equally glad to say that Amy is still working with CI on field programs and events like the Move-A-Thon. You might even see her on your next field program or hosting a CI event!
Amy was kind enough to reflect on her Cottonwood Institute experience for our latest Staff Profile, which you can read below. You can also meet Chelsea Tossing, our new NVHS CAP instructor, in our conversation from July! Chelsea has been working closely with Amy in the lead-up to the Fall quarter, and we can’t wait to see how she brings her own flavor to CAP at New Vista.
What led you to become an environmental educator? Why is EE important to you?
Some of my most profound moments as a teacher came when I was working at summer camp—outdoors, disconnected from the patterns of our daily lives—starting in high school. Right after college, I moved away from the South and was exposed to so much more about the world. I began learning about the climate crisis in more detail. The combination of internalizing that everything is interconnected and that our day-to-day choices are not made with their consequences in mind solidified that this was my calling and why I am on the Earth at this time. It is important that the work I choose to do in the world makes a difference.
At CI, we encourage our students to “change the world.” You’ve been involved with quite a few Action Projects now—how have your students changed the world for the better?
My students said it best. They feel like their projects are important, but that their project, created in just 3-4 weeks, does not tackle the root of the problem and doesn’t create a lasting, sustainable change. What they do feel is important is that participating in this project, immersing themselves in the Cycle of Hope with peers who support them, gives them an outlook and a determination that they can carry with them as they continue to make choices and do projects with other peers in other contexts. It’s the exponential ripple effect of each of them gaining knowledge and feeling empowered over their lifetime as they encounter others and spread this message. That said, one of my New Vista classes created a painting and a video that are powerful examples of art as activism that I hope will touch others in the years to come.
Can you share one or two favorite memories from trips you led with your CAP classes?
One memory that will stay with me is when my co-instructor and I had to make a difficult decision as to if we needed to evacuate from a site or not. We pulled the students together, shared the data we had gathered to that point, asked for their input, and made a decision. We told the group that we ultimately needed to make the decision, but that their input would be very strongly considered. This was a group of students who I didn’t think I really impacted all that much, but at the end, they talked about how much they appreciated that we took their opinions into consideration, and it felt like I salvaged something.
Another memory was when we were hanging a bear hang over a particularly tall tree branch. It was not an ideal branch, being much higher and much shorter than would have been optimal. Most of the male identifying students lined up to throw the rope over the branch and were very enthusiastic, but not very successful. They made what felt like about 30 attempts and seemed like it was taking forever. Finally, a female identifying student, an exchange student from Brazil who spends a considerable amount of time on make up and make up tutorials when she’s not in the woods, walks over, takes the rope, and nonchalantly throws it over on the first try.
What will you miss most about teaching CAP at New Vista?
What I will most miss is the opportunity to connect with and teach such meaningful, life changing curriculum to students who are so ready for this work. New Vista students are passionate, empathetic, thoughtful, appreciative humans and being in their presence as a teacher is a gift.
Is there one piece of advice you give your students that you’d like to share with the CI community?
Everything is interconnected. Everything you do and don’t do, say and don’t say matters and changes the course of the lives of every species around you. Therefore, you have power—how you choose to use it is important. Keep this in mind as often as possible to guide how you live your life. If everyone did this, the world would be a very different place. It is imperative you help get it there.
Thank you to Amy Atkins for her (many, many) contributions!
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