Through a collaboration between the Hitchcock Center for the Environment and the Mass Audubon Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary, the Fourth Annual Western Mass Youth Climate Summit (WMYCS) was held virtually Thursday and Friday, October 15th and 16th this year. Students from schools in the Berkshires, Connecticut and the Pioneer Valley forged rich connections.
This year’s Summit was the first to be fully youth designed and facilitated by a youth leadership team of five students: Victoria Fogg, Leo Franceschi, Tessa Kawall, Ollie Perault, and Sadie Ross. Four schools actively participated in the virtual event with 32 students, including WEB DuBois Middle School (Berkshire Regional), Suffield High School (CT), Frontier Regional High School, and homeschoolers. Another three schools participated via the recorded event, including The Bement School, Northampton High School, and Quabbin Regional High School.
Themes intersecting race, climate change and activism engaged and empowered middle and high school students, who may not have opportunities to study climate change in school but who feel passionately that structural changes must happen.
Conversations began with the foundational science of climate change with Dr. Michelle Staudinger. Her presentation was framed around 3 questions:
Dr. Staudinger is an ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, the Science Coordinator of the Department of the Interior Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center, and Adjunct Faculty in the Department of Environmental Conservation at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Students were encouraged to get creative through poetry with Ashley-Rose, a Haitian-American educator, organizer, actress and award-winning poet. She shared two powerful examples of black and indigenous poets’ work, encouraging students to take one line from a poem and expand upon it with their own ideas.
Ashley-Rose’s own work has been featured in numerous collections and anthologies including The Anthology of Liberation Poetry. She has worked in the non-profit field for more than a decade with a focus on youth work, arts and activism. Currently Ashley-Rose is the lead boston organizer and facilitator for the first youth participatory budgeting process in the USA.
Furthering the personal connection to climate change as a pathway to dialogue, Jason Davis introduced students to the Climate Stories Project. The Project empowers anyone to record and tell their own climate story as to generate dialogue, connection and shared participation around the world.
Jason is an active musician, both teaching and performing jazz, classical, and world music in numerous ensembles. An environmental educator based in Boston, Massachusetts he founded and directs Climate Stories Project, an interactive forum for sharing stories about the effects of climate change on our lives and in our communities. Questions for stories might include:
For more action-oriented students, Emmilee Dropkin shared the activism and work of Extinction Rebellion Western Mass, where she serves as a coordinator. Emilee helped the students understand the demands and principles of their activism toward a regenerative culture. Demands include:
Emmilee is a fiction writer, teacher, and activist. Her writing blends speculative and literary traditions to explore human responses to the climate emergency. It has appeared in The Massachusetts Review, Electric Lit, and elsewhere.
The self-selecting students who participated in the WMYCS agree to work with a team from their school or homeschool group to develop a Climate Action Plan. To support the development of this plan, peer mentors from Frontier Regional talked with the other students, sharing the goals of their own plan that have been successfully implemented.
Now in its fourth year, the Climate Summit uses an empowering peer-to-peer model, as envisioned by its youth leaders. It is supported by Hitchcock Center Education Director Colleen Kelley and Brittany Gutermuth, Mass Audubon’s Climate Education Coordinator for Connecticut River Valley Sanctuaries.
New this year, youth leaders are additionally supporting participants’ Climate Action Plans by providing mentoring and inspirational monthly sessions through the academic year. As students develop their plans, youth leaders are planning to facilitate a spring showcase event where teams can share their fully formed plans and successes with their peers.
Near the end of day two of the Summit, participants shared ideas to include in their schools’ Climate Action plans. They included: