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“Where Everyone Belongs”: Conversation with Students in Environmental Leadership Class Going Beyond the Classroom

By Cultures Of Dignity | May 4, 2017

“Where Everyone Belongs”: Conversation with Students in Environmental Leadership Class Going Beyond the Classroom


Young people getting along? Young people being themselves? Young deeply people caring about the environment and their place in the world? Kinard CARES has figured it out.

We visited with a group of awesome students selected to be a part of an 8th grade environmental leadership class called Kinard CARES at Kinard Middle School in Fort Collins, CO. Kinard CARES is a year-long elective class based on raising environmental awareness while making a difference in our local community. The peak experience of the class is a trip to Catalina Island, CA where students participate in a week-long environmental leadership and service learning camp understanding their role as global citizens.

Cultures of Dignity sat down with Assistant Principal and leader of Kinard CARES, Chris Bergmann, and six passionate 8th grade students (Jordan, Zoie, Nathan, MacKenzie, Payton, and Kylie)  to talk about what this experience means to them. We were shocked at how articulate and passionate they were in their responses! Check out the conversation on how these students have grown as leaders in their community and lessons from spending a week on an island.

Cultures of Dignity: Alright you all, this class seems too good to be true! A trip, environmental leadership, and you all like each other?! Tell me a little bit about Kinard CARES and why you wanted to join?

Mr. Bergmann: Kinard CARES started with student passion and interest and was completely student-driven from the beginning. The best learning happens when we provide students with authentic engaging and real-world experience that reflects their civic duties. If they feel like the work they are doing is going to leave a legacy, then you have won. If we can get kids to develop an empathy and emotional response to the natural world and if they fall in love with it at a young age then they will be empowered to serve and protect it.

Kylie: The groups before us came into our class in 6th grade and I identified them as the leaders of the school, they were all one big family, and I wanted to be apart of that.

Payton: I saw that it changed the groups ahead of us, it gave them a new perspective on the world and I wanted that for myself.

MacKenzie: Previous generations had this special dynamic that you don’t come across often. I saw what they did for the school, for the world, and others and it really intrigued me.

2016-2017 Kinard CARES group on Catalina Island

Cultures of Dignity: So you’ve been in class for a year now, in one phase, what does being a part of this group mean to you?

Jordan: Crazy, amazing experiences

Zoie: New meanings

Nathan: When a group of people get together with a common goal, they can achieve it no matter how hard it is

Mackenzie: Where everyone belongs

Payton: My second family, where you learn something new every day

Kylie: A safe haven – where we can all share our ideas without being judged

Other submissions by Kinard CARES students

Cultures of Dignity: Our work is all about culture and dignity and how those play out in the dynamic of any group. What’s it like being together and what have you learned?

Kylie: The group dynamic of this class is amazing, you know everyone on a deeper level and you can share things that you wouldn’t share with other people. When they smile you want to smile, they are the only ones who really know you.

Mackenzie: I learned to be your true self, to not care what other people think and to not be judgmental.

Zoie: It is harder to be someone else than to be yourself.

Nathan: You don’t have to try and fit in or be something that you are not.

Cultures of Dignity:  Mr. Bergmann told us that when you’re in Catalina you’re doing a lot of  leadership activities, team building, and service learning, but can you tell us about what the trip meant to you?

Nathan: On Catalina you aren’t controlled by friends or what others want you to be. Don’t have to worry about parents, your school work, soccer, and other activities, you can just be yourself on the island.

Payton: In 7th grade, I knew everyone on a shell level and have an idea of what their personality is but when you go on the trip you figure out who they really are instead of who you thought they were.

Mr. Bergmann: I keep taking students on this trip because it is the last time that you might feel completely free to play and just be. The island allows you to take safe risks and have natural consequences. At home you feel like you can’t get dirty and out there it’s a safe way to learn. It’s the last time in your life where you fully feel free to play, without sports, grades, pressure, to just be.

Nathan: One time I was all alone and I climbed to the top of this giant rock and just sat. I gained a better appreciation for being quiet and being alone. There is always noise here and on the island it was a way to escape the noise.

Mr. Bergmann: Yes, and sometimes the voice that gets drowned out by the noise is your own voice.

Kylie: I remember one time a group of us just sat in silence on the beach for a really long time and then started talking about all the stresses that we did leave back at home and we were sad about it and then we learned that we could just use this as a stepping stone for going in a new direction when we get back.

Cultures of Dignity: This sounds like an incredible experience! What else have you gotten out of it? I imagine a lot.

Jordan: It’s given me a new appreciation for leadership, sometimes I feel like in order to be a good leader you have to know when the right time to lead and when the right time to step back and let other people lead. A good leader puts the people they are leading above their needs

Nathan: What you put into it you get out of it. We put in so much and got a lot out of it too.

Payton: You can’t be afraid to make a difference and to take on the work and make the change happen.

Mackenzie: These skills won’t just stop in 8th grade. The skills we learn will carry on the rest of our lives. We can pull experience from this class to help us later on in life.


Kinard CARES Website

Kinard CARES Facebook