Regeneration makes me think of generations, the generations that we label and identify based on their experiences, the wars they lived through, the justice they fought for, the technology they grew up with.
Re-generation, makes me think of re-uniting each generation with their own voice, with their own power and agency. That is what drives the work we do at Cottonwood Institute (CI). We create classes, trips, and spaces for middle and high school students to contemplate what it means to jump into the narrative of the world around them: both the social and natural environment in which they find themselves.
The mission CI operates under is to connect students to the natural world and empower them to take action in their schools, communities, and the environment for future generations. It is no small goal and no accident that it starts with connection. Regeneration speaks to relationships and uniting “physical, natural, economic, and social capital”, from the SEED definition. Working toward re-connecting a generation to the natural world is our first step to helping bring this about. Through our Community Adventure Program (CAP) classes, in partnership with local schools, students come to know the world outdoors again, or for the first time. They see things with a new lens and are then asked to take action.
The Action Project that is central to the CI classes and trips helps students understand their ability to have a voice, and to make a change in the places they live and go to school. Each CAP class is asked to choose a local environmental issue as a group and address it. They connect with community organizations and plan a project to positively influence their chosen issue. Once they have implemented their project, they share with their school or community and reflect on what they have accomplished and learned.
This awakening agency is their next step into understanding the power of their own thoughts and their abilities in working together. Groups talk often about how to tie the many social issues in the forefront of their attention with the environmental issues that are inherently connected.
This connection shows up in the projects they execute from how the food we eat is connected to bees and their habitat; to graffiti and the environmental impacts of its cleanup; to the complexities of GMO issues in communities around the world and in our backyards.
As students understand these deep connections and take on their projects, we see them gain some traction in the steps of not just “saving the world” but regenerating it. They come to know that this sometimes daunting charge starts with our very own connection to the natural world and the people around us.
About the Author
Madeline Bachner Lane
Cottonwood Institute is an award-winning 501(c)3 educational non-profit organization based in Denver, Colorado. Cottonwood Institute aims to inspire a new generation of 21st century leaders who are environmentally aware, civically engaged, and empowered to make a positive impact within their communities. Learn more at http://www.cottonwoodinstitute.org.