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New Outdoor Program Gives Career And Education Opportunities For Jackson Latinx High Schoolers

A group of educators and students stand in circle
Luxianna Watkins
A highlight from the professional development nights was the opportunity for the Rising Educators to share their experiences with one another. They shared the fun parts of their jobs and the challenging parts of being outdoor educators.

"Let's keep walking," said 18-year-old Brittany Maldonado as she attempted to move along her camp kids as they headed out for the day. Maldonado is a Coombs Outdoors camp counselor in Jackson Hole.

"Are you excited?" she asked the kids as they walked along. "We're going to cook later today. We're going to do this little hike. We're probably going to have lunch here and then we'll go to May Park for Slow Foods."

Maldonado is one of 14 counselors for a program called Rising Educators. This new summer program offers Latinx high school students paid internships in the outdoors industry. Maldonado said outdoor camps are important to her community since most parents work during the summer so kids are left at home.

A woman smiles while giving a smiling boy a piggyback ride
Britney with camper.

"It's really hard for them [kids] to get out there. They're just on their electronics. And I feel like that's really important to me because I'm like, 'Oh, I really don't want my sister to be on her electronics. Like, I really want her to go outside and have fun'," said Maldonado.

Rising Educators became a reality because Annel Hernandez realized there was a need for paid jobs with professional development in the Latinx high school community. Hernandez is with the One 22 Resource Center, which is an underserved community advocacy group. She works with youth in the community to help them get scholarships and attend camps. But all of these opportunities were for younger kids.

"I started receiving feedback from the parents asking if their older kids could do something else. Because now they were graduating from the summer programs and they were not able to participate in that anymore because of economics," said Hernandez. "There's still programs, but they're more expensive for families to participate in."

Jackson Hole's Latinx community is about 25 percent of the population and it is continuing to grow. As Jackson becomes a more expensive place to live, high school kids are looking for jobs to help with their family's income. But Hernandez said there weren't really any opportunities where the student could get paid and learn professional development skills. So Hernandez worked with local organizations to create the Rising Educators Program.

"It empowers the Hispanic youth, for them to be able to see that there's more things out there," said Hernandez. "It's great for them to do construction and work in the restaurant, but that they're capable to develop skills and they can have a different role in the community or apply for a different position in the community."

So besides working as counselors for Coombs Outdoors, Jackson Hole Children's Museum, Teton Science Schools and Teton County Parks and Recreation, the educators also meet weekly for professional development. Julie Gonzalez, a community engagement coordinator for Grand Teton National Park, helps facilitate these trainings.

"This was an opportunity for us to continue to build their skills when it came to teaching and group management, etc. but also those career readiness opportunities," she said. "So, we put together things like resume workshops, and my favorite, which was the career panel."

A group of teenagers, standing outside in a circle
Julie Gonzalez
Rising Educators learned teamwork and communication through fun interactive activities designed by Teton Science School staff and Grand Teton National Park rangers.

For Gonzalez, this type of opportunity is especially important. She herself is a first-generation Mexican-American and she was exposed to the possibilities of an outdoor industry career from a program she participated in during college. She said programs like Rising Educators show participants that there is Latinx representation in the industry even in national parks.

"That representation piece is that they're able to see themselves in this uniform. Every time we have our professional development, I show up in my uniform and my hat," said Gonzalez. "The connection where I'm not just a representative of the National Park Service, but I'm also representing the Latinx experience."

For Rising Educator participant Britney Maldonado, the program taught her important professional and life skills.

"I learned to be more patient and learned about time management, like figuring out and problem-solving. I think that's kind of a big thing that I also learned."

She will be taking these skills with her to the University of Wyoming as she starts her freshman year as a pre-med student with the goal of being a pediatrician.

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