Stories from the Field

2019 Student of the Year: Kinzie Klein

Combined Shape Copy Created with Sketch.
Student of the Year Kinzie Klein.

NatureBridge programs provide thousands of students each year the opportunity to go beyond the walls of a classroom and explore, understand and celebrate the science and wonders of the natural world. Through the beauty of our national parks, the passion of our educators and the hands-on environmental learning experiences, NatureBridge programs ignite self-discovery and inspire stewardship of the planet. 

Each year, NatureBridge selects one student who exemplifies these inspired changes through demonstrated outstanding growth as a result of the program.

Kinzie has an infectious laugh and an amazing zest for life. She is outgoing and kind and makes everyone around her comfortable.
Laura Bachman

This year, we are thrilled to announce 15-year-old Kinzie Klein of New Day Academy in Alturas, California, as NatureBridge Student of the Year. In the fall of 2018, Kinzie stood alongside the rest of her classmates, eagerly waiting to board the bus headed to Yosemite National Park for our Environmental Science Program.

Unlike her peers however, Kinzie carried with her treatment equipment and a cooler filled with all the medications her Cystic Fibrosis requires. Not only was she embarking on an adventure of change and growth, but for the very first time in her life, Kinzie was responsible for her own daily medication and treatment.

Kinzie refused to let this extra baggage weigh her down as she boarded the bus with a smile on her face. Describing her as “remarkable,” New Day Academy principal Laura Bachman explained how impressed she was by Kinzie’s maturity with her condition. She watched with amazement as she would explain Cystic Fibrosis to both friends and chaperones as she conducted her daily treatments. 

Kinzie is not someone who allows her life to be defined by her disease, as Laura explained. In fact, upon meeting Kinzie most would be completely unaware of her Cystic Fibrosis.

“I am nominating Kinzie because she brought such joy to the group and took full advantage of the NatureBridge experience,” said Laura. “I watched her have a life-changing experience at Yosemite, embracing every moment, taking on every challenge and absorbing information like a sponge. It is a trip that will propel her confidently into future trips, college and a life beyond New Day Academy.”

Kinzie and a friend on their NatureBridge program at Yosemite National Park.
Kinzie and a friend on their NatureBridge program at Yosemite National Park.

Kinzie has been living with the respiratory and digestive system-impacting disease since just a few weeks after she was born. Cystic Fibrosis can cause mucus buildup that impairs the lungs, pancreas and the intestine. In addition to the inhaler and medication she takes regularly, Kinzie spends 30 minutes, twice per day, in a vest that shakes her chest to help loosen mucus and move it away from the walls of the airway.
Yet none of that got in the way of her leading the group on hikes - no matter how difficult, stepping up to every challenge and embracing every adventure offered.

The Vernal Falls hike was particularly challenging but that didn’t stop Kinzie. Cystic Fibrosis impacts lung capacity, making the lungs sensitive to changes in elevation. Quap Moretz, NatureBridge educator and leader of Kinzie’s trip, acknowledged his initial concerns about the hike and was aware that potential modifications to the route could become necessary. The significant elevation gain of the Vernal Falls waterfall and the fact that Kenzie is not the biggest fan of heights made this portion of the program extra trying. 

However, Kinzie handled the adventure “like a seasoned outdoors woman,” according to Quap. 

One of my education idols is a man named Kurt Hahn and one of his most prolific quotes is ‘Your disability is your opportunity.’ I have used this quote to inspire my students over that last seven years and I truly believe Kinzie lived this quote to the fullest potential by taking on her NatureBridge experience and shining as a role model student.
Quap Moretz, NautreBridge Educator

Kinzie was able to conquer the feat with encouragement from her classmates and Quap. 

“The Vernal Falls hike feels like a pilgrimage to most who hike it and during the hike I remember thinking to myself that this has to be a literal and metaphorical ‘challenge hike’ for her,” Quap recalled.

These friends who helped her to Vernal Falls had a huge impact on Kinzie’s overall experience on the trip as well. Attending an independent study school, Kinzie doesn’t always have the opportunity to be spend time with classmates. At the start of the program she only knew two other girls attending, but by the end she gained 28 new friends! Quap saw her as one of those “glue students” who brings a group together.

Going to Yosemite was a life-changing experience for me for multiple reasons. I enjoyed meeting new people, I loved the exposure to nature and the challenge of the hikes and it gave me the first experience traveling for multiple days without family members.
Student of the Year Kinzie Klein

In addition to the challenges she overcame, being on her own and in charge of her medications without the help of family members was a profound experience for Kinzie. 

“The most important life skill I gained from NatureBridge  was learning that I can take care of myself,” wrote Kinzie. “...As I move through high school and into the real world, I need to be able to take responsibility for my health and the treatments that keep me alive. This trip gave me confidence and hope.”

Check out these other