Merrimack Valley Life

Nature-loving teen eager to dig in at national environmental summit

Arianna Cabrera (left), 16, a Salem High School sophomore, plans to attend the Washington Youth Summit on the Environment this summer. Laura Preston, a Salem High science teacher, nominated her to participate in the program. Salem Life photos by Darrell Halen

Arianna Cabrera (left), 16, a Salem High School sophomore, plans to attend the Washington Youth Summit on the Environment this summer. Laura Preston, a Salem High science teacher, nominated her to participate in the program. Salem Life photos by Darrell Halen

A Salem teen’s participation in a six-day environmental program in the Washington, D.C., area this summer will give her a taste of college life, expose her to new lessons in science and might put her on a trajectory to a career in a science-related field.

Arianna Cabrera, a Salem High School sophomore, plans to attend the Washington Youth Summit on the Environment, an educational program for high-achieving high school students who have an interest in environmental science, sustainability and conservation.

This year’s WYSE, which partners with the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and the National Geographic Society, will be held June 28 to July 3 on the campus of George Mason University.

“I’m excited that she wants to go,” said Laura Preston, a Salem High science teacher who nominated Arianna for the program. “I think it’s a great opportunity.”

Arianna, 16, will be one of 250 tenthand eleventh-grade students who will be participating in what summit organizers describe as an “exciting and intensive academic experience.”

The summit, designed to take students far beyond traditional classroom learning, will include exclusive visits to the zoo and the National Geographic Society, along with small group work sessions and lively panel discussions.

Participating in this hands-on, interactive program, students are placed in real world experiences and meet and interact with some of America’s most respected and influential leaders in environmental science, conservation and policy, according to organizers.

Students will “step forward as leaders and practice and apply important leadership and decision-making skills that begin to prepare them for success in college.”

Past speakers include the director of the U.S. Geological Survey, an Environmental Protection Agency administrator and the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Energy.

“I’m definitely one who likes adventure,” said Arianna. “That’s something I want to do when I’m older – travel a lot. I felt the opportunity to go to D.C., was pretty cool. When I was younger, I was always interested in trees, environmental (issues), how climate change affects us. I took a high interest in that.”

Arianna was one of two students that Preston nominated for the summit after she received a letter, soliciting nominations, from the program’s executive director last fall. She and Kylie Dennis, the other nominee, were in an honors-level Earth and Space Science class that Preston taught last year. Kylie is unable to attend the summit.

When considering who to nominate, Preston thought of top-notch students with an interest in science and a positive attitude who would, she believed, represent the school well and work well with others.

“I thought they were well-rounded students who would do well in a program like this,” Preston said.

Arianna’s mother, Amy, and her father, Jesus, an IT employee for the Salem School District, also thought the summit would be a good experience for her.

“I was very excited because I looked at it as a big opportunity,” recalled Arianna, who had to submit a writing sample as part of the application process, about being accepted.

Even when she was a child, Arianna cared about the world around her, and she would always write about deforestation and its negative effects when there was an opportunity to write an argumentative essay.

Her love of the environment is something that Arianna shared in a biography of herself that she provided to Preston to use in announcing her acceptance to the program.

“I spend a large chunk of time in the summer in the mountains,” she wrote. “The beautiful frosted peaks are something so much larger than any individual on this earth and I find them fascinating. Other highlights of the area are the crystal clear running water that I love to swim in and the crisp air that feels great going into my lungs. I look forward to going to places in northern New Hampshire for the beauty and uniqueness they hold. You can not quite find anything else like it.”

Arianna plays volleyball and lacrosse, mountain bikes and skis. She is currently interested in careers in photography, law – perhaps environmental law – and environmental science. Attending the summit, she said, might set her on a path to eventually enter the environmental field.

“I’m hoping that if I do take an interest in what I learn at the summit, that maybe I could go into a career (for) that,” she said.

Attending the summit is something that Arianna has never experienced before, and Preston likes that she will be taking on something new.

“I like the idea of her stretching herself,” said Preston, who may see Arianna this summer because she has applied for a faculty advisor position at the summit.

Another adult who is excited that Arianna plans to attend the summit is Haley Currie, a first-year SHS science teacher.

Currie, who is from Harwich, Mass., attended the summit in 2012. She went on to earn an undergraduate degree in earth science with a geology focus and a master’s degree in secondary education, both from the University of New Hampshire.

“It was an awesome opportunity to meet a bunch of kids from around the country with like-minded ideas,” she said of her time at WYSE.

Part of what she learned was how to lobby Congress on environmental bills, and how policy works.

“They taught you a lot of great leadership skills,” she said.

Her advice to Arianna for the summit: Take it all in. Go to all the break-out sessions. Branch out and meet new people. Currie kept in contact with a faculty advisor there who helped her a lot.

“The connections that you meet are super cool. I met a lot of awesome people who I still keep in touch with,” she said.

The summit’s tuition is $2,150. Arianna has received a $700 scholarship from WYSE. She also received a $400 grant from Exxon Mobil through the high school, part of money the company has provided SHS to support instructional programming.

To help raise more money she needs, including covering the costs of Arianna’s airline flights, her mother is organizing a 50/50 raffle.

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