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One Voice Yellowstone Project: Sacramento High Schoolers Join Forces with EPI

Young people building diplomatic connections through art and ecology.

I am Kaia Hitzeman, a 17-year-old from Sacramento, California, and a senior at Natomas Charter School Performing and Fine Arts Academy (PFAA). Along with 10 other students from my school, I embarked on an EPI Yellowstone course in October 2023. This was the second time my school had partnered with EPI to bring students out into the field, and it was an amazing experience I’ll never forget. On the course, I represented my school as an ambassador of The One Voice Project and took on the role of “Official Digital Journalist/Photographer”. 

Natomas Charter School’s, “The One Voice Project”, was founded amidst the societal disruption caused by the 9/11 attacks, to bridge the divide between young people across the globe through an exchange of arts and shared moral values. The focus on ecology became a main aspect of the project after PFAA students of the EPI Costa Rica course in 2018 organized hands-on Earth Week workshops for the entire campus. As a participant in these workshops, I felt inspired to be part of a future One Voice branch and a sense of responsibility to improve the environment. So in 2022 when the opportunity arose to participate in One Voice Yellowstone, I didn’t hesitate. 

After passing three rounds of evaluation, I became a One Voice Ambassador for the Yellowstone branch. In the weeks leading up to the Yellowstone course, 11 student ambassadors rehearsed before and after school to prepare multiple dance, vocal, spoken word, and instrumental performances to share with students from Montana High School. Having never been to Montana before, I felt apprehensive about the performance and dialog day with the Montana students, given the immense political polarity that has divided the United States. However, I was able to overcome this fear by connecting through the beautiful Yellowstone landscapes and the shared life experience of being a teenager.

In addition to the One Voice Project activities, my fellow ambassadors and I participated in ecology activities led by EPI instructors. Around various locations in Yellowstone National Park, we worked with EPI to help conduct bear safety surveys, bison field research and tracking, and assisted the Yellowstone Bison Team with a bison enclosure service project. These field opportunities gave me first-hand experience of the importance of conserving and sustaining wildlife and encouraged me to bring that impact to my school community. Most recently, a fellow One Voice ambassador and I started a recycling project through our school’s environmental club. We are working diligently to implement a sustainable school-wide system in which all students are involved and educated on the issue of waste and the carbon emissions it produces. 

While there were many memorable moments of my EPI experience in Yellowstone, the visit to Norris Geyser Basin was my favorite part of the trip. I had never seen anything like it before. The hot springs emitted beautiful spectrums of color and I loved watching the geysers shoot up into the air. 

I captured many gorgeous landscapes of the hot springs, geysers, and Yellowstone wildlife. Upon returning to my school, I organized a successful exhibit where my photography was on display for the whole school to view. In addition to photography, I am skilled at finger knitting. On our last day with the Montana high school students, I gifted each of the students a knitted beanie to remember the connections we made during our time together and continue on the One Voice legacy. 

Returning from the EPI course, my fellow ambassadors and I were excited to share their experiences with friends and family. Having learned so much about Montana life in just one week, I wanted to get involved in environmental issues in my community and educate others on the ecology resources and volunteer opportunities available in Sacramento. Today, I am a leader for environmental change at my school and am continuing the One Voice Yellowstone legacy as I finish the rest of my senior year. I aspire to study Environmental Science for my undergraduate degree and would love to participate in another EPI course or travel abroad in the future.  

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