Did you ever struggle in your early high school years to find your voice and become a leader? This fall I am working with a group of students who have signed up for a Wilderness Rites of Passage experience to meet other youth leaders and explore their own hero's journey by speaking up for the value of diversity to solve ecological inequities.

The group of students that have been nominated for this Wilderness Rites of Passage experience will become a leadership cohort that represents the idea that diversity equals health: in our environment and in our human communities. The lessons this cohort will explore during after school meetings and a 4 day back packing trip is that that diversity is the innate architecture of being. Programmed into every living cell and visible in all environments is diversity. In my science classes we observe how biodiversity is an indicator of a healthy ecosystem. Socially we have the opportunity to experience how ethnic and cultural diversity can improve the health of our human communities if we learn to value the voices of all students. Our school has an average of 2000 students enrolled, 40 percent are racial minorities, 700 speak a language other than English at home and 90 are international students living in the United States as refugees.

The leadership cohort is composed of five women and five men who bring knowledge from, American, Bosnian, Burundi, Karen, Mexican, Peruvian, Somalian, and Thai ethnicities. As a metaphor we will be embarking on a hero's journey together and discovering the power found in each one of us to find solutions to the ecological inequities we see in our communities.

The wizard Merlin is well known as being a powerful wizard and change maker, but in the story The Lost Years of Merlin that we'll read together, we'll find out he wasn't always that way. There were many difficult trials that lead to him finding his powers and we will all embark on a similar journey through fundraising efforts and during the Wilderness Rites of Passage experience.

As a leadership cohort we will begin work that will also impact the lives of many others in our school and in our neighborhood. This project will have long term implications for English Language Learners and other high school student leaders interested in the value of diversity. During the four day wilderness backpacking trip in southeastern Utah we will participate in both adolescent and adult rites of passage that focus on the value of diversity.

One outcome of the rites of passage is that every participant, students and teachers, will select a personal action project that addresses the needs of their community.

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