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Ella Zhao

Charter School of Wilmington, 10th

Pathway to Progress

Past the bend of a hill in my neighborhood lies a small, steep path. The short road is speckled with white and gray stones, the widespread kind that kids gather and analyze for their large, organized collections. Grass and weeds peek out from tiny crevices, as well as occasional patches of mud. An old wooden railing teeters on the side of it, needing as much support as the person scuffling down. Many would carelessly walk by this trail, ignoring it completely or assuming it was private property. My family and I did the same for the majority of our lives, but the decision to pursue the path and the discoveries it led to has formed an unbreakable bond between me and my surroundings. It has offered me a glimpse of what I had previously taken advantage of and what I had not taken enough notice of. The towering trees, blossoming flowers, melting sunsets, grass blades, animals, dandelions scattered right in front of me – in front of all of us, connecting us. It has provided me with a heightened understanding of the world around me. It has connected me to my local community on a deeper level, expanding into the intricate webs of life that stretch far beyond my neighborhood and flow throughout our natural world. 

Feet in horizontal position, we would slowly make our way down into the forest. The trail in the middle of our neighborhood was previously an old mining site. Although I’ve lived in this complex ever since I was a child, I wasn’t aware of its history or hidden wonders. Finding this treasure had awakened a part of me that became fascinated with the delicate balances in life. Reading the description on the sign and standing where felled trees used to sway piqued my curiosity. Observing the deer, squirrels, and birds dancing about warranted excited conversations with my loved ones. The caress of a soft breeze and the multicolored leaves of the fall, a canopy above the ground and the sky, offered me tranquility. Like how this shortcut connected the top and lower halves of the neighborhood, it had introduced me to the world’s authentic beauty. It had inspired me to utilize the power of the internet, an interconnected ecosystem of its own, to keep myself constantly informed. My desire to protect this little sanctuary, as well as the other communities in the world, bloomed. I was grateful that this wonderful nook withstood decades of fluctuations to appear itself before me, and I was made aware that many landscapes aren’t as lucky. The discrepancy between these fates is immoral and saddening, so it is plain to see that more has to be done to vivify our earth and its inhabitants for the times ahead. Without a doubt, our current and future generations also deserve to experience beautiful sights and cheerful lives.

Little by little, my interest and motivation in protecting the environment grew. More and more topics – like the spread of harmful chemicals, the fast fashion industry, endangered species – were introduced to me. I sought out information in various ways, and sometimes it sought me. For instance, I might’ve learned something due to a comment from my dad or an Instagram account that I follow or maybe a news article notification. Just like the intricate details of our environments, this knowledge is everywhere and already right in front of me. Its presence looms over me, environmental change within my grasp, but I didn’t give it much thought in the past. However, the circumstances are different now and my mindset has drastically changed. Now, I don’t want anybody else to disregard their own pebbled path and its splendor. I want to make sure that everybody acquires these revelations, this enlightenment on the major issues and virulent practices in the world. 

That was when I found out I wasn’t alone. I never would’ve thought that there would be such passionate people with the same interests as me. There were student-led conferences, projects, essay contests, competitions, and online resources. I immersed myself into the cause, met people with similar beliefs, and got closer to supportive mentors. My friends and I shared explosive laughter and gained unforgettable memories. We joined the planning committee for Delaware’s Youth Environmental Summit, conducted a research and advocacy project on the dangers of PFAS, and more. Extensive amounts of time, effort, and hard work was sacrificed for our initiative, but it is all irrelevant unless the meaning behind it is proliferated throughout our community. Anybody could preach for environmental justice and awareness, but the mission should be to do everything in our power to create real change, especially if it’s local. 

The first step, an extremely simple action that most people don’t realize is the most important, is the investigation and passion that stems from truly taking notice of the nature around them. All it takes to build and pursue the route is a short 5-minute walk outside of the house, a glance out the window, a keyword into a search engine. It is quite easy for us humans to overcomplicate our situations, but it isn’t necessary in this instance. Everything takes time and persistence, nothing is automatic. Even though it may seem like a daunting task, the most crucial obstacle to overcome is the lack of action. Progress always has a beginning, like how a painting needs the first stroke. It is also paramount that individuals can support each other in pursuit of these goals. After all, a painting requires a canvas, dutiful brushes, and vibrant acrylics. Frequent additions to the artwork then strengthen the initial achievements and lead to further accomplishments where results and compassion can shine through. 

My dad used to ask on our walks, “Do you want to go on the trail again today?” When this opportunity arose, we would always accept his offer with unrestrained enthusiasm and no hesitation despite our repeated visits. My modest path has connected me to lifelong friends, given me new experiences, and changed my perspectives completely. However, this little stone road in the small city of Newark, DE shouldn’t be the last. In the future, we must recognize the marvels on our planet and effectively pave the way for others. Always, we should encourage our parents, friends, siblings, teachers, strangers to find and follow their own path towards an everlasting connection with the wonders of nature. 

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