Northside Safety NET interns begin putting learning into action

Nine interns joined me and Jaycie Thomsen in November to form the 2021-22 cohort of Northside Safety NET. The year-long Environmental Justice Internship is led by Environmental Initiative. During the school year we meet after school and on Saturdays until summer, when we will be busy in the community three days a week.

In my role as job coach, I get to work hands-on with high school students who live in North Minneapolis, Minn., as they learn about environmental justice and the environment in general. I coordinate, mentor, and support the student interns. My employment in the Conservation Corps, at Tree Trust, and at the Minnesota Internship Center allowed me to develop skills and a baseline of environmental knowledge. I also gained an ability to relate to and talk to teens to direct their interests and shape the program.

Our first event was in cooperation with the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization. It was a deep dive into water quality complete with hands-on activities. Interns created their own watershed with a sand and water box to learn about the impact of dams in rivers, and how important entire watersheds are. We also listened to a presentation about jobs in the field.

Presenters from the City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County talked about brownfields located within the county and city, including those where the interns live in North Minneapolis. The students were engaged and listening as they learned about hazardous materials, discovery of materials and contamination, the process of clean-up, and how much it costs. We explored a website showing brownfield sites in North Minneapolis which interns have direct knowledge of and relationship with because they live there.

We hosted a “Get to know you” evening where we made stormwater stencils and the students learned how chemicals and pollution impact water quality. After these activities, we split them into two groups of three to make flyers about rainwater and stormwater. The interns enjoyed tapping into their creativity.

Another “Get to know you” game was with Jenga. This was with all the interns and consultants, City of Minneapolis employees, and others who attended our session. That Jenga game was really fun! Everyone was all mixed up and mingling. The information session included a presentation and slide show from City of Minneapolis and was an introduction to urban pipeshed studies. This was to gain knowledge about storm and sanitary sewer systems. We took a virtual tour of Heritage Park. Interns picked where they would put community, rain, and other gardens based on what has been learned to date. The interns also learned about site assessments and stakeholder understanding and engagement. Each person got a card with an example to role play. This activity was important to develop awareness of multiple perspectives including power, motives, and bias.

Coming up the interns are participating in a Hack-a-thon, a holiday celebration with the Environmental Initiative board of directors, and learning about communication. Keep an eye on our blogs for more updates and to meet the interns.