Avalon Theisen: A Young Friend of Frogs

An interview by Scott Harris 
In September, Avalon Theisen received the national Gloria Barron Prize for her work with frogs and the environment. Winning an award for conservation work is a great achievement by any measure. But what makes this even more remarkable is that Avalon Theisen is only 11 years old. A few years ago, Theisen founded Conserve It Forward as a way to inspire other kids to take care of the natural world. She organizes the annual “Save the Frogs Day” event in the Tampa, Fla., area, and also records frog calls to share with scientists. She created a video about the effectiveness of digital frog dissection as an alternative to dissecting the real animals and started a small business selling homemade arts and crafts, with all the proceeds benefiting Save the Frogs!, the Camp Bayou Outdoor Learning Center in Florida, and Friendly Water for the World, which builds biosand water filters for people in developing countries. This busy seventh grader recently took time out of her schedule to speak with Save the Frogs!

With SAVE THE FROGS! Founder Dr. Kerry Kriger in Santa Cruz October 2012.

What first grabbed your interest: frogs specifically or conservation generally? Why are these things important to you?
I always felt a connection to the natural world. Even when I was a couple weeks old, my mom said I would get very peaceful when she took me outside. I remember being a really little kid trying to find ways to help the environment. When I was eight, I started taking classes about frogs and going to frog-listening workshops. You can identify frogs by their call, just like with birds. There are mating calls and other kinds. I always thought frogs were cute, but I was learning that they were helpful to our world, too. They’re an indicator species. I wanted to help others learn about what I was learning. Frogs and amphibians are facing a lot of problems. There are lots of ways people can help.

It probably takes a lot of work and time to do something like Conserve it Forward. How do you do all of this while keeping up with school, homework, and other things?
I’m home schooled, but that doesn’t mean I do most of my schoolwork at home. I’m not home too much at all. I’m always traveling or working on projects. I can do a lot of my schoolwork online or on iPad. Technology helps me do more stuff with Conserve it Forward.

When did you first realize you wanted to start a microbusiness? And how did you get started?
Theisen: There were three main things. The first thing was the frog-listening workshop and my herpetology teacher. That’s when I realized I wanted to help. The second thing was Camp Bayou. It is a beautiful park. The environmental educators who work there are volunteers, and I wanted to work with them. The third thing was Friendly Water for the World. People die every single day because they don’t have safe drinking water. It all kind of mixed together, and out came Conserve it Forward.

What subjects most interest you in school?
Science and the environment mostly. I also like to draw and make things like simple machines. I like to make stuff that will help the environment. Once I tried to make this trap for a feral cat, so I could help the cat. It didn’t work, but when I checked the food was gone.

Have you given any thought to what you might want to study in college or pursue as a career?
I’ve always loved being outside and exploring. I’d really love to put all this together and be an explorer for National Geographic. Maybe I could have my own television show.