Our Harley students who are active in the Rochester Youth Climate Leaders played an important and leadership role in planning and presenting their first Youth Climate Summit on April 9, 2017. The purpose of the summit was to bring together teams from area schools (grades 6 through college) to further their understanding of climate change, pursue hands-on activities they could take back to their respective schools, and to work together as school teams to identify areas of greatest need and develop action plans to address factors of climate change. Over 90 students from over 16 area schools (rural, urban, suburban, public, private, charter, and collegiate) spent a full day at the Rochester Museum and Science Center doing just that. It was an amazing collection of professional experts, educators, and enthusiastic students.
After a welcome by the leadership team of the RYCL, the audience heard from the morning keynote speaker, Don Duggan-Haas, Ph.D., Director of Teacher Programming at the Paleontological Research Institution at the Museum of the Earth & Cayuga Nature Center in Ithaca, NY. He addressed various forms of energy and the recent transition state-wide from relying on coal-based electricity to more sustainable and renewable sources. He raised the need for broader education about the factors contributing to climate change and spoke about the need for a clear message and collaboration.
After the keynote session, participants were able to choose between listening to a panel discussion on Local Climate Action or Careers in Sustainability. Liam Smith, one of the student leaders of RYCL, moderated the panel on Local Climate Action, featuring: Melissa Chanthalangsy, Energy and Sustainability Specialist from the City of Rochester; Barbara Grosh from Mothers Out Front; Abigail McHugh-Grifa from Rochester People’s Climate Coalition; and Tonya Noel Stevens from Causing Effects Garden. The Careers in Sustainability panel was moderated by Dr. Karen Berger, Coordinator of Sustainability Studies at the University of Rochester, and featured: Sarah Dobie, environmental sustainability student at RIT; Meg Sternowski, Environmental Sustainability Specialist for Constellation Brands; and Evan Zachary, founding member of RIT’s Student Environmental Action League. During this time, the teacher team leaders met together to share successes and challenges in their own school’s sustainability efforts.
The final session before lunch featured four distinct hands-on workshops led by local experts and organizations pursuing sustainable practices and helping raise awareness about the issue. Paul Barrows and his team from Dream Bikes set up an outside work area to introduce students to the basics of bike maintenance and to speak with them about creating a culture of biking in the Rochester area. Community Composting staff, led by Jessica Hamm, had the students conduct a waste audit on the patio to examine a typical day’s trash to see how much of what was in the trash bins could actually be recycled or composted. Kimie Romeo from the Town of Irondequoit’s Conservation Board explained the usefulness and purpose of rain barrels, and Chris Hartman and his team from Headwater Food Hub explained farm to table practices locally and led the students in creating four delicious salads which were then eaten as part of the lunch menu.
After eating lunch and getting a chance to explore some of the museum exhibits and enjoy the sun, the participants returned to work in their school teams to identify strengths and challenges at each of their institutions and then get to the difficult task of creating an action plan. The groups worked well, often consulting each other for ideas and inspiration. After working as teams, the full group reconvened so that each school’s team had the chance to share out what they intended to do. No two plans were the same, and it was interesting to see how varied they were in terms of which aspect of sustainability and climate change each addressed. The event ended with a group accountability commitment to actively work towards realizing their goals and to report back on progress.
We were appreciative of the media coverage of the event and especially grateful for the individual and organizational sponsorship for the event!