Real People: Arabia Mountain High student learns value of the earth

Winning a slot in the student body of Arabia Mountain High, a magnet school for environmental science and engineering in Lithonia, changed Josh McCloud’s destiny.

“I first heard about it when I was in 8th grade, when there was a buzz around it being new and environmentally-friendly,” said McCloud, now 17 and a graduating senior. “I had to write an essay about an environmental issue, have a certain test score on the PSAT and have an interview. But I got in.”

The magnet program exposed the Decatur resident to subjects he never considered studying. But the one that captured his interest most was about the environment.

“I really didn’t know anything about it,” he admits. “ We spent a year working near area rivers, and I saw the pollution and trash along the sides and how that affected pH levels and plants that grew there,” said McCloud. “I knew we were damaging the environment, but I didn’t realize how much of an impact we were having. It was a ‘wow’ moment, and I wanted to learn more.”

As a sophomore, McCloud applied for the Nature Conservancy’s Leadership in Environmental Action for the Future program, a 4-week, paid internship for students from urban, environmental high schools across the country. The process was another learning experience, McCloud recalls.

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“I applied on the last day — just a shy little 10th grader who didn’t know anything,” he said with a laugh. “I was stuttering and really nervous.”

McCloud became one of three Georgia students picked for the program and has returned every year, becoming the only student from Arabia to participate for three years in a row.

“It transformed me from a shy, introverted teenager who didn’t believe he could do anything into a confident person,” he said. “It was the best experience of my life.”

That confidence has shown through in McCloud’s high school record that includes playing on the school’s football team and being selected as a National Society high school scholar. He has been accepted into a joint biomedical engineering program at Morehouse and Georgia Tech. But before college begins, he’ll spend the summer at Arabia, maintaining the newly-planted vegetable garden, a project recently completed by students with support from the Captain Planet Foundation.

“The garden adds to the beauty of the school and shows how we have that personal relationship with our environment,” said McCloud. “I learned so much doing it. Now my next project is getting my parents to start a garden at home.”

Every other Wednesday, H.M. Cauley brings you positive stories from our community. To suggest a story idea, call 770-744-3042 or e-mail

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