National Park ServiceU.S. Department of the Interior
Partnership header Making music at the Ashville festival, Blue Ridge Parkway
Minority Youth Education and Employment Program

Description: The National Park Service Pacific West Regional Office and Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA) are collaborating with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, California Department of Education, and Los Angeles Unified School District on a program to employ and train minority youth for environmental careers in the National Park Service. The program is designed to reach youth early in the process of forming their career decisions, particularly inner-city minorities that may not otherwise consider the National Park Service as a career choice. In turn, these individuals broaden the relevance of the National Park Service through inclusion of greater cultural diversity in operation and management decisions.

The youth training and employment program takes promising students enrolled at Woodrow Wilson High School Environmental Science Academy in East Los Angeles and couples their academic training with practical experience working in national parks. The Woodrow Wilson High School Environmental Science Academy is a cooperative program of the Los Angeles Unified School District, California Department of Education, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA) that introduces minority students to environmental careers through academic study, internships, and summer employment.

Beginning their high school junior year, students that meet academic standards are selected by academy advisers and National Park Service staff for summer work experience and training at SMMNRA in Southern California. The students return each consecutive summer for increasingly complex work and training assignments. As the students enroll in college, they are available for employment in national parks throughout the west as STEP (student temporary) employees. The students perform a variety of practical tasks, including rehabilitation of park facilities and resource management projects. The students perform exotic plant eradication, revegetation planting and maintenance, lizard and small mammal surveys, stream invertebrate surveys, develop programs and perform roving interpretation with "curiosity carts," trail repair, sign replacement, fence and debris removal and other backlog maintenance projects. In addition the students have gone on week-long work trips to assist at Sequoia-Kings Canyon and Channel Islands national parks. The park is hoping that parks will continue to carry qualified students as SCEP (co-op) employees during their junior and senior years in college. As they graduate with academic degrees, qualified SCEP students would be available for conversion to permanent employees.

Initiated in June 2000, the program has a current enrollment of 17 students, eight of whom are now in college and considering pursuing long-term careers in the National Park Service. Only six of 18 students who participated in the program during its first four years have dropped from the program, demonstrating a strong commitment by students and Wilson High School and National Park Service program advisors. Two students have gone on to SCEP positions, one with the Forest Service and one as a Biological Science Technician at Zion National Park. This year the park began taking students from an additional high school district in Ventura County.

The program began with a Public Lands Corp grant to employ urban youth in performing native plant community restoration. It was initiated by then Superintendent Art Eck and Deputy Superintendent Woody Smeck who had previously formed connections with the Natural Resource Conservation Service and the Wilson High School Environmental Science Academy. The program has since expanded to provide work experience in all aspects of natural resource management and interpretation as well as in maintenance, administration and even law enforcement. The National Park Service has provided over $280,000 in Recreation Fee Demonstration Program funding to support the program, which has been matched with in-kind services by the Los Angeles Unified School District and Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Current funding for the program will end in September 2004. The park opted to stretch existing funds through FY05 by limiting the planned expansion of the program this summer. However new funding sources will be required to sustain the program. Annual program costs under full operation are approximately $105,000 for a full complement of 16 high school students and 10 college students. This amount supports salary, transportation, and program activities and provides for a total of 196 weeks (3.7 FTE) of labor each summer.

Geographic area covered: The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area comprises 150,000 acres within a 46 mile long mountain range that bisects western Los Angeles. Eighty-two thousand acres are privately owned and 68,000 acres are preserved as parkland by federal, state, county and private non-profit agencies. This large urban park serving southern California is within one hour's drive of one in 17 Americans. Despite the surrounding urban environment, 90% of the recreation area is natural habitat, representing one of the finest examples of the highly diverse, globally rare Mediterranean ecosystem (globally about 5% of earth's landmass).

List of partners and relationships: The National Park Service Pacific West Regional Office, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA) Natural Resources Conservation Service, California Department of Education, Los Angeles Unified School District - Woodrow Wilson High School Environmental Science Academy and the Oxnard Union High School District.

Accomplishments to date: Currently 17 students enrolled, eight of whom are now in college and considering pursuing long-term careers in the National Park Service. Two students have gone on to SCEP positions, one with the Forest Service and one as a Biological Science Technician at Zion National Park. Expanded program this year to include an additional high school district in Ventura County, National Park Service funding has been matched with in-kind services by the Los Angeles Unified School District and Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Key success factors:

  1. The park is providing high school students with novel, exciting summer jobs working as a team outdoors, which even at the GS-1 level, pay well for a teenager.
  2. Wilson High School and now the Oxnard High School District have provided the park with bright, capable students who already have an interest and educational background in natural sciences; the students do not arrive unprepared.
  3. The enthusiasm of the park staff in all divisions who work to welcome the students and provide them with meaningful tasks. On closing questionnaires students consistently remark on their sense of contributing to the park's mission and the feeling of camaraderie with park staff.

Frustrations: Despite arriving with an interest and having an educational background, the students ultimately are young, of limited experience and are only with the park a short time each summer. This limits what they can do and the park's ability to train them. It is sometimes difficult to assure that all students are at all times being assigned meaningful work with a clear goal. In general, the logistics of the program can be difficult, particularly with students from Wilson High School who commute for over three hours each day. The continuing search for "soft money" funding that is appropriate to the work and goals of this program has been a continual concern.

Most important lessons learned to date: In terms of sparking enthusiasm and interest it is important to involve the students in real, meaningful work; to have them work side-by-side with park staff on projects they see completed; and to always explain to them where their work, no matter how basic, fits into the overall program to protect resources and achieve the NPS mission.

What would you do differently next time: This program has been one of assessment and modification. Although many changes have been made in the five summers since the park began, there is not any one change that stands out. This year the park implemented a more competitive application process for high school students. The park has also switched the student's work schedules to include Saturday, which allows for the students to perform interpretation. Park staff feels both of these changes better serve the program.

Suggested resource materials: None.

For more information:

Name: John Tiszler
Affiliation: Plant Ecologist and Program Manager, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
Phone/Fax: 805-370-2340
Email/website: John_Tiszler@nps.gov

Partnership category(ies) (check all that apply)

Fundraising __; Capital Improvements __; Facility Management __; Trails _X_; Design __; Program Delivery __; Visitor Services __; Tenant Organizations __; Concessioners __; Natural Resources Management/Restoration _X_; Cultural Resources __; Education/Interpretation _X_; Arts __; Information Services __; Transportation __; Mutual Aid _X_; Fire Management __; Planning __; Tourism __; Community Relations _X_;

Other ____________________________

Prepared by: : Woody Smeck and John Tiszler Date posted: 8/19/04
Phone: 805-370-2340

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