‘Green-minded’ students earn money while giving back to nature

Performing manual labor outdoors in July is probably not the way most Houstonians would choose to spend their time, but for some HISD students, there’s nowhere else they’d rather be.

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“This is my fourth year,” said Karina Sustaita, a rising senior at Milby High School. “My sister did it for several years and she told me about it.”

Karina is one of nine HISD students participating in the Student Conservation Association Houston’s Community Crew Program this summer, through which teens and young adults can learn about the environment and gain valuable work experience while completing conservation projects around the Houston area.

“Sometimes, people don’t understand how conservation works,” explained Alice Yet, a rising senior who serves as the vice president of the ecology club at Westside High School. “They just think, ‘Oh, here’s a trail to walk on.’ They don’t know how much work goes into maintaining it.”

Both students were working on an erosion control project at the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center (HANC) on July 21. “The Outer Loop Trail is made of decomposed granite, and it’s expensive to replace,” explained Trevor Rubenstahl, a HANC conservationist, “so they’re reshaping the trenches alongside it to prevent runoff from washing it away. In clearing those out, they’re also removing some invasive species like Chinese privet, so it serves a dual purpose.”

“I like the fact that you can help and have fun at the same time,” added Karina. “We don’t use our phones out here, so it’s kind of a break from social media, too.”

Aside from the two campuses already mentioned, participating HISD students also come from Bellaire, Carnegie Vanguard, Eastwood, and Lamar high schools this year. Those who complete the five-week program will take home more than $1,000 in wages.