NatureBridge at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (Marin County, California) has a year-long, one day per week paid internship for San Francisco and Marin high school students called the Teen Environmental Education Mentorship (TEEM). We have had a student who did this. http://www.naturebridge.org/golden-gate/teen-environmental-education-mentorship
The Richardson Bay Audubon Center and Sanctuary in Tiburon, California has two free and unpaid internship programs for teens: The Summer Audubon Youth Leaders – Naturalists in Training Program, and the Audubon Youth Leader Internship. http://richardsonbay.audubon.org/programs/AYL
The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy’s I-YEL Program for San Francisco high school students lasts one year. You participate on Wednesdays after school and on Saturdays and earn $240/ month. http://www.parksconservancy.org/learn/youth/leadership/iyel/ There is also a summer program for middle school students called Urban Trailblazers.
The Pacific Leadership Institute’s Youth Lead! Program trains and hires fifteen to twenty year olds to work at their ropes courses in San Francisco during the summer: http://www.pliprograms.org/index.php/programs/youth-lead
New York City’s Central Park has several volunteer programs for teenagers, and a paid summer internship for high school students http://www.centralparknyc.org/about/programs/youth-programs.html
In the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Garden Apprentice Program teenagers get their hands dirty and earn a stipend. The senior ones earn an hourly wage. http://www.bbg.org/learn/gap
The University of Southern California’s seven-day Summer Marine Lab Experience for High School Students on Catalina Island is free. http://dornsife.usc.edu/assets/sites/291/docs/HS-MarineLab2015_v1.pdf
The New York Botanical Garden’s Explainer Program accepts 14-17 year old interns. They give you training and a MetroCard. http://www.nybg.org/edu/explainer-program/
The New York City Parks’ after-school Ranger Conservation Corps (RCC) is an urban environmental internship for high school students. You don’t get paid, but you get community service hours and there are some neat activities and trips. http://www.nycgovparks.org/programs/rangers/conservation-corps
Girls on Ice is a unique free wilderness science education program in Washington State and Alaska for high school girls. They spend 12 days exploring and learning about mountain glaciers and alpine landscapes through scientific field studies with professional glaciologists and mountaineers http://girlsonice.org/
The NatureBridge Armstrong Scholars Program takes a dozen young women on a 12-day summer backpacking adventure in California’s High Sierras. It is subsidized, so it only costs the participant $150 total. http://www.naturebridge.org/yosemite/armstrong-scholars
The Arctic Research Consortium of the United States sometimes sends high school students on free trips to Greenland. https://www.arcus.org/jsep
Quite a few of our high school students 14 and older volunteer as members of the Marin County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Team. After getting trained in first aid and search & rescue techniques, they respond to outdoor emergencies and hunt for missing hikers all over the state. It’s a big commitment because the call never comes at a good time. You have to be OK with occasional sleep deprivation, missed school, and tragedy. http://marinsar.org/
Outward Bound is an expensive kind of outdoor adventure travel, but it has a good reputation. If you want to become a wilderness guide yourself, probably the best place to get the training is the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). You can get college credit. The Sea Education Association has excellent 3-week summer programs in oceanography on board square-rigged sailing ships.
The Youth Outside Outdoor Educators Institute offers four months of free training in outdoor education, outdoor leadership and wilderness skills to San Francisco Bay Area residents aged 18-27 with financial need. This is a work skills program – it gives you the training you need to become an environmental educator or outdoor trip leader. There is an emphasis on socioeconomic diversity. Think of this as a free version of NOLS. http://www.youthoutside.org/programs/outdoor-educators-institute
BECOME A CERTIFIED NATURALIST:
Any teenager or adult in our state can take a 40-hour course to become a Certified California Naturalist. You can do it a few hours a week over a semester, or in a single one-week program. Lots of places offer this course, including the Point Reyes National Seashore Association in Marin County and the University of California at Berkeley’s Sagehen Creek Field Station in the Sierras. Our local chapter of the California Native Plant Society even offers an annual scholarship to pay the tuition for a teenager to take the Sagehen Creek course. This certification will not (by itself) get you a job or teach you that much about plants, animals and geography because it takes a lifetime to learn these things. The “Certified Naturalist” designation is just a starting point. However, if you’re considering ever working in environmental education or for a national or state park or for a wildlife agency in our state, having “Certified California Naturalist” on your resume could make the difference between whether or not you get the job. One of my students has done this program. http://calnat.ucanr.edu/About_the_program/
Many states have such certifications, often called “Master Naturalist”, usually offered through the state university’s cooperative extension program. In a lot of them (for example New York, Florida and Illinois) you have to be 18 years old to do the program. This is foolish and short-sighted. If a younger person has the interest and can complete the program’s requirements, why shouldn’t he or she be encouraged in that interest? If California’s teenagers are able to do it, why can’t New York’s? A few years are a long time to wait when you’re a teenager. If you are under 18 and live in one of these states, maybe you can personally contact the program’s coordinator and ask an exception. Or, you can do the program while you’re in college.