Wellesley High seniors win Land Trust’s Conservation Award by putting invasive plants on notice

The Wellesley Conservation Land Trust has announced the recipients of the environmentally focused organization’s Outstanding Commitment to Conservation Award. Wellesley High School seniors Alden Hurtado and Madison Prowda were honored for their role in creating a student-led system to manage invasive plant species in and around properties managed by the Land Trust. The award and the project were made possible through a partnership with the Community Fund for Wellesley, which provided grant funding.

Wellesley Conservation Land Trust
From left: WCLT president Michael Tobin; Alden Hurtado; Dr. Bruce Meltzer; Madison Prowda; and WCLT vice president Judy Barr

During a presentation last week in a WHS science classroom, Hurtado and Prowda explained their work with Land Trust board member Dr. Bruce Meltzer and WHS science teacher Ken Bateman (who could not be there due to after-school sports team commitments). Also in attendance were proud family members; other Land Trust board members; Wellesley Natural Resources Commission Education & Outreach Coordinator, Lisa Moore; and Community Fund for Wellesley representative. Mary Beth Mahoney.

The goal, Hurtado said, was to create a long-term action plan through a teaching model that could be passed down from class to class to educate student volunteers on how to identify and deal with invasives. “How can we dispose of them in effective and long-lasting ways?” he asked.

There are two major components to the project. Accurate identification of common invasive species such as garlic mustard, knotweed, and Norway maple seedlings will be an essential part of training student volunteers. For that, Hurtado and Prowda have created a training app that features pictures of invasives commonly found on Land Trust properties. Included will be pictures of plants considered non-invasive, but to be avoided, like poison ivy. Thanks to the app, the Land Trust won’t have to incur the expense of publishing a heavy manual that students would have to lug around.

The second component of the project is the introduction of a train-the-trainer model. Prowda explained the basic premise: “Sophomores will be the first group. They’ll learn the information, then they’ll train the next group, which will be freshmen. So when the freshmen are sophomores, they’ll know what to do.”

“Because of what life is like for high school juniors, the model is going to use high school sophomores as the cohort that then trains the freshman class to keep it moving. The overall idea is a student train-the-trainer model for invasive species and environmental learning.” Dr. Bruce Meltzer, the project’s mentor, a Land Trust Board member, and Tufts University-educated psychiatrist, added.

Dr. Meltzer spoke about adolescent mental health and how emerging concerns include pre-TSD (pre-traumatic stress disorder) around climate change. “There are very few models for looking at how to address that particular concern. The very few models that exist are mostly therapy based. I’m interested in an engagement model,” he said.

Through action, it’s possible that adolescent mood and anxiety troubles related to concerns about the environment could be better managed, he theorized.

His goal is to next spring present the training materials that Hurtado and Prowda have worked on, along with initial findings, at a statewide or national land trust conference. The future could include a network of land trusts that use the train-the-trainer model that is getting its start right here in Wellesley.

Wellesley Conservation Land Trust president Michael Tobin reiterated the group’s long-term commitment to the program. “We hope to attract high school students to the mission of ecology and conservation and understanding the role of humans and invasive species in the evolving climate crisis. It’s an opportunity for  the students to demonstrate their agency.”

Durning Seniors Awards Night on June 4, Hurtado and Prowda will officially receive their Outstanding Commitment to Conservation Award, along with monetary recognition. But the advantage to having a more casual pre-award gathering was sampling Dr. Meltzer’s homemade garlic mustard pesto. It was excellent, and a good way to put garlic mustard on notice—we see you and we’ve got a team of high school students coming for you.

Alden Hurtado will attend UMass Amherst in the fall, and Madison Prowda will go to Scripps College.

Please support your local news source, The Swellesley Report