Regenerating a Generation Through Education and Connection

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.

“Before coming to CAP I already felt a strong connection to nature and the universe, but had never really been backpacking before, so really stripping down to the basics and grounding myself made me reflect heavily on myself and the world around me.” 
—Student quote 2016​

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.​

“I learned that everyone deserves a voice and communicating with others is really fun.”
—Student​ ​quote​ 2017

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.

“Before CAP I was aware of environmental issues,but put them on the back burner to social issues I care more about. I now realize you can be passionate about both.” 
​—​ ​Student​ ​quote,​ ​Spring​ 2017​

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
Program Director

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​

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