Youth Engagement Award: Sean FitzHoward
Sean FitzHoward has a head start on contributing to local conservation. At 16, the high school junior has already completed an internship with The Bay Institute. Now she’s volunteering with the California Academy of Sciences. She also founded and runs the Protect the Bay Club at San Francisco’s Lowell High School. We caught up with her at Crissy Field to talk about her passion for local environmental action.
BN: How did you get interested in nature as a child?
SF: I’ve always loved animals, and even though I’ve lived in the city I’ve just always liked being outside. My dad took me and my sister on a backpacking trip in Yosemite when I was ten, and I remember I really, really liked that.
In elementary school I went to a summer camp called Silver Tree. It’s a Rec and Park summer camp, and we would go hike around Glen Canyon park. Even though it’s right in the middle of San Francisco, it felt like being out in nature. We would climb around and pick blackberries, and I remember that was really fun.
BN: How did your Protect the Bay Club come about?
SF: I started it at the beginning of my sophomore year. The summer before that I had an internship with The Bay Institute’s San Francisco Estuary Education Program. I remember being surprised about all the animals that live in the Bay. When I went back to school, I really wanted to start a club. The Bay was something that I had just found out about and now it was special to me, and I wanted to tell other people about it.
BN: What are your favorite places to hang out by the Bay, just for fun?
SF: Probably here [at Crissy Field]. Members of the club came out here and we were taking footage for a movie we’re making to enter in the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival. For fun, I really like riding my bike on the Embarcadero and around here. Just being by the water.
BN: How did you end up making a movie about the Bay?
SF: We organized a little field trip [to the Ocean Film Festival] for the club last year and watched all the films. I think this is their first year having the student contest.
It’s a short film, part animation, part live action. We’re going to draw a little scene of the Bay, with it starting off looking unhealthy, and then [to show restoration] we’re going to draw in plants and maybe some animals. We got that idea from this wetland restoration site where we volunteer, Pier 94 in the Bayview district, working to bring the site back to life and bring back the animals. The second half is going to be live footage we filmed. Then we recorded people’s voices talking about the Bay.
BN: What do you think is the most pressing issue with Bay conservation?
SF: We went to this one volunteer event at Colma Creek in South San Francisco, and there was so much trash. That’s probably the saddest thing for me to see: the plastic pollution in the Bay. And all the wetland environment is just disappearing. A lot of the animals have disappeared, and there’s a lot of invasive species.
BN: What would you say to other kids who want to get involved in a conservation issue?
SF: I’d say be creative and have fun with it. Don’t just do it because you think you have to. You should do it because it’s fun and you genuinely care about the issue. It’s easier to convey that to other people.
BN: Do you think it helps that it’s local?
SF: That really helps. By doing this, like by planting native plants, you’re protecting the Bay directly.
BN: What do you see yourself doing going forward?
SF: We want to use [our fundraising] money to hire a speaker to come and talk to the school about the Bay. We really want to do something that will reach the whole school. That’s going to be hard, but hopefully a year from now it could be happening.
BN: What would you say to adults who want to help younger people get involved in environmental issues?
SF: I think probably the biggest thing is making it fun. Turn it into something they can be in charge of, like they’re doing it themselves. I think the coolest thing is like, “Oh, that was my idea!”