Tessa Chambers wants to make a difference in the world -- and the West Fargo High School sophomore has set her sights on environmental issues as the perfect way of accomplishing just that.
With a passion for learning and for protecting the environment, coupled with a 4.0 grade point average, Tessa was given an opportunity to participate in a recent learning experience that was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Last spring, Tessa applied for The Lowenstine Honors Scholarship, a scholarship that covers full tuition, room, and board, to attend a semester-long college-preparatory session at Conserve School in Land O' Lakes, Wisconsin. The mission of the school is to inspire young people towards environmental stewardship through academics and engagement with the natural resources.
The school carries forward the legacy of founder James R. Lowenstine in providing a diverse group of young people with a residential academic setting that fosters understanding of the science of natural resource conservation, commitment to protecting the environment, an inclination toward careers that help preserve the natural world, enjoyment of outdoor activities and love and respect for nature. Conserve School is set upon 1,200 acres that was originally Lowenstine's family's Northwoods estate, also known as Lowenwood, where Jim Lowenstine himself grew up spending much of his time boating, hiking, fishing, and hunting.
Conserve School, which had previously been a four-year school, converted to a one semester attendance format in 2010 in order to reach as many students as possible. Due to Jim Lowenstine's foresight and generosity, full Lowenstine Honors Scholarships will be provided to every student who is selected until spring 2017.
As the very first student from North Dakota enrolled, Tessa spent from mid-August to mid-December immersed in a curriculum that, for the most part, was environmentally based. "Although the English class was not as focused on being green, a lot of it dwelled on how the landscape is incorporated into American Literature," Tessa explained. "The history class was about exploration of the land, which also incorporated the environment; and the advanced placement environmental science class, which was a very study-intensive course, was also very sustainably-based."
She said the school was pretty much what she expected it to be. First hearing about it
on Facebook, she perused everything she could find on the website, then visited Conserve School with her mom during students days, touring the facility and meeting all the teachers. "So after all of that, I really wasn't shocked," Tessa said, "I knew what it would entail."
The regimen revolved around a Monday through
Friday schedule, busy from 7:55 a.m. to 3:55 p.m., with the weekends pretty much freed up for students to do as they wanted or take in volunteering opportunities.
Exploration week was unique to the curriculum allowing the students to choose between six nights and seven days of backpack canoeing or a more challenging backpacking trip. Tessa opted for the less strenuous backpacking trip through The Porcupine Mountains of Michigan. "You carry everything you need with you literally on your back -- a 35 to 40 pound backpack, hiking during the day and camping at night," Tessa noted. "It was very rainy most of the time. I am the type of person who needs solitude, and it was very hard to get that. They didn't want anyone wandering off in the wilderness."
Later on, solo sessions were offered where students could do one or two nights of camping totally alone while on the campus. "That was incredible," Tessa said with enthusiasm. "For me personally, to enjoy the outdoors, I like be alone and not have another person distracting. You can take things in so much more. I took my journal and wrote. The scenery was amazing -- it was near a bog and you could see a lake in the distance and the sun shining through the clouds and reflecting off the lake. And the bog had beautiful little plants. This was just one of those 'wow' moments that nobody else has seen. There were no cameras so you had to conjure up a mental image when you thought about it later. I discovered that not talking to anyone for 48 hours, you really do find out more about yourself."
Tessa said she loved the overall experience, admitting it was a challenge to her as a sophomore taking junior classes. Through it all, she said her mom, September Eschbach, was incredibly supportive. "With the support of my mother, and the fact I had a full scholarship so I could attend, it was just amazing."
School has provided an incredible foundation for Tessa. Since her first day in kindergarten in the West Fargo School District, Tessa has been driven to be as academically challenged as possible, which led to her ultimately earning the Presidential Award during her elementary years. She also possesses a special passion for music, both vocally and playing the flute. "I am very much into music. I love to sing and I love writing," she said. "I journal a lot, but I don't share a lot of my writing unless it's with my English class." She is active in band and choir, last year participating in ensemble and solo competition, and symphonic band.
In advance of the Conserve School, Tessa also completed a summer biology course at the West Fargo High School this past June, which made it possible for her to take an AP Environmental Science class this past semester at Conserve and allowing her to earn a college credit in science.
She also finds the time to hold down a part-time job at the Rising Bread Company in the Food Court at West Acres Mall, works out five days a week, and squeezes in self-taught yoga sessions as well.
Referencing the latter, Tessa said "I definitely think it helps you build a connection with yourself when you are just focusing on what you are doing with your body and what you need as a person. It helps remove the clutter and clean your head a bit."
Her attendance at Conserve School has indeed helped pave the way for future aspirations. Tessa said when she was younger she was asked what she wanted to be as an adult and would tell everyone what she thought they wanted to hear, "either a teacher or lawyer. But I realized I wanted to make difference in the world, so being involved with the environment would be a good way of doing that."
Toward that end, she started doing little things whenever possible, like recycling aluminum cans and paper. "In eighth grade I attended STEM Middle School and worked with seventh graders to encourage recycling within the school."
Now as a proud alumna of the Conserve School, Tessa wants to continue that green wave with a reinvigorated desire "to spread the good word and talk to others about it. I would definitely like to get the word out. Few people know about the program and it is amazingly incredible."
Tessa has gained much from the experience, including "more independence and a deeper understanding of what is going on the world and more compassion for people because of the strong sense of community provided. Going from a school of 500 kids to 80 people or so definitely makes you more aware of how other people are doing and taking those things into consideration, and I guess I think more about things and question "what am I doing" and how it coincides with my values and a deeper connection into what I believe in and what my morale values are."
Participation also melded into lasting friendships. "We became very connected," Tessa recalled. "Toward the end people started forming groups and we became very close because we had something in common. We will definitely maintain friendships. We talk on the phone, send letters, and exchanged Christmas presents. This was a unique experience where you are never going to have the exact relationship with anyone else because of the small community."
Following high school, Tessa said she is strongly thinking about taking a gap year and joining AmeriCorps, a federal program that engages adults in intensive community service work with the goal of helping others and meeting critical needs in the community. "I really just think it's an amazing thing someone can do with their time and life and I really want to do it right away without the stress of a job and bills. " Looking further ahead, she intends to join the Peace Corps after college.
Tessa added that no matter how she proceeds, there will always be fond memories of Conserve School and the associations she made. "We got to the end of it all, and I thought "wow this flew by". I am a very independent person but there were times when I really did miss my mom. She came for family weekend in October, and I got to go home in November, so I did get to see her twice. She's definitely the person I have the closest relationship to."
That one-on-one relationship has served them both well with September stating that she is indeed "a very proud mother. The coolest part is that Tessa has learned so much from being a part of Conserve School, she had wonderful mentors. This is something she initiated and wanted to do. I guess this just really means a lot to me because our life has been a financial and emotional struggle and I hope that it opens a lot of doors for Tessa. But most importantly, I think that it is important for our community to realize and recognize the talent and accomplishments of people in our area. So many times we have a tendency to focus on the negativity, and we forget to focus on the inspiring issues of people who take an initiative to better themselves, work hard, and to hope to make a positive change within themselves and within the community. This is especially important for our youth."
Tessa said her attendance at Conserve School and the insight she gained has helped put the important things in life in perspective. "We need a better idea of the big picture. My freshman year we were dwelling on what was going on with our best friend and who was dating who. None of that really matters. There is so much going on in the world. We need to help our children find a niche and get them interested in something that will further themselves. Sports and music all help but I'm thinking about something more progressive. We need something to entertain us other than each other and I think we need a different mindset as far as the outlook on life goes. I think after going off to school I am definitely excited to spread the world about what I've learned. I don't want to preach, I just want to lead by action."