Desert EYE for Leaders Program is an Environmental Youth Experience!

GIS Field Lab at Desert EYE for Leaders Conference

The Desert EYE for Leaders Program brings environmental education and service learning opportunities to students

The Desert EYE, or Environmental Youth Experience for Leaders, is an annual service learning and environmental education program created by CREEC Network Region 10 Coordinator Jennifer Eve Futterman and various community partners. The California Regional Environmental Education Community, or CREEC, is a network for finding environmental education resources in California via the Events Calendar at their website,


The annual Desert EYE for Leaders Program begins with a Kickoff Conference

Each year, students from grades 6 – 12 and their teacher chaperones attend a day long Kickoff Conference which marks the beginning of that year’s program. The Conference begins with ice-breaker activities for the students that promote team building and demonstrate that everyone has something to offer.

Ice Breaker Activity
Students have fun participating in an ice breaker activity that gets them mingling, moving, and smiling.

The ice breaker activities are followed by breakout sessions on topics including service learning, environmental issues, and tips for creating video PSAs for their projects. After a lunch break, the student groups move on to a planning session where they decide what their environmental service learning projects will be and begin thinking about their next steps.

Students at the 2010 Desert EYE for Leaders Conference enjoying a presentation on burrowing owls, which are native to the Coachella Valley. Habitat protection for native species such as the burrowing owl and fringe toed lizard is important especially during periods of high population growth or influx of new residents moving into the area.

After the Conference, student groups work on their projects.

For the next 4 to 5 months after the Kickoff Conference, the student groups work on their environmental service learning projects. Many of the students participating in the Desert EYE for Leaders program are doing so as part of their school’s Eco or Volunteer Clubs, and they spend extra hours after school to work on their project. These projects provide a great opportunity to involve other school clubs as well – for example, the journalism and drama clubs can help with the public awareness aspect of the project, while math, science and horticulture clubs can help with the planning of campus gardens, and so on. There are a myriad of opportunities for hands-on involvement, and this gives students a great introduction to building community partnerships!

Student groups are provided with resources such as small grants to help cover project expenses and access to public and private community partners who can provide donated materials or expert advice as the students carry out their projects. Over the years since the Desert EYE for Leaders program began, students have worked on projects including:

  • creating organic and water efficient demonstration gardens on their campus
  • building raised community garden beds for a retirement community next to their school campus
  • planning and organizing trash cleanup days in their local communities
  • organizing waste stream reduction plans on their school campus
  • creating recycling programs up and running on campus
  • getting solar panels installed at their school campus


Students at DHSAEC created a waste reduction program on their campus that was very successful, reducing the waste stream by 80%!

There are even more great projects than what you see listed here. Perhaps one of the most rewarding outcomes is that the Desert EYE for Leaders program has seen some of its early graduates grow into young adults pursuing careers in environmental sciences! Those graduates have even come back to speak to current program students, giving them inspiration, motivation, and proof that they can do anything they set their sights on!

The Full Circle Celebration wraps up the Desert Eye for Leaders program in Spring

To round off the annual program, student groups and their teachers are brought together for a Full Circle Celebration in spring time. At the Full Circle Celebration students speak about their projects, telling their peers and accompanying adults about what they wanted to accomplish, the challenges they faced, and the results of their efforts. This provides students with a taste of public speaking and a practical exercise in creating a great presentation.

Certificates of recognition and awards for their hard work are presented to students at this time. The student groups have been encouraged to create sustainable and ongoing projects, and sophomores and senior students are inspired to mentor their younger peers in the next years’ programs on how to keep the projects going. For example, seniors that worked on installing a water efficient or organic foods campus garden can give tips to the juniors coming into the program about how to keep the garden project going, how to expand the garden, or to take what they learned to their middle school peers and help advise them on their own campus garden projects.


Full Circle Celebration Field Walk
Students enjoy a field walk during the Full Circle Celebration at the Wildlands Conservancy’s beautiful Whitewater Preserve. They were thrilled to find tadpoles and juvenile frogs during their walk.


Would you like to be involved in this great environmental education and service learning program?

The Desert EYE for Leaders welcomes community partners such as local businesses willing to donate materials (for example garden and building supplies, clipboards, notepads, journals, iPads with iMovie) or funding for student projects, and individuals who can lend expertise and advice to student groups as they carry out their projects (teachers, parents, master gardeners, engineers, environmental sciences professionals).

If you would like to be involved in the Desert EYE for Leaders program please visit the CREEC Network Region 10 web page and contact the Region 10 Coordinator, Jennifer Eve Futterman.