By Krystal Ford
Several months into my son’s first year of Kindergarten I could only name half the kids in my son’s class and a handful of staff at the Garrison School. I was still learning to navigate the unfamiliar terrain of pick-ups and drop-offs and how to find my son’s classroom without getting lost. But a few months later all that would change.
In March of 2018, I went to my first school board meeting with the intention of reading a Climate Change Resolution that the Sebastapol Union School board in California passed in December 2017 and asked my school to pass one too. The reason I wanted my school to pass the climate change resolution, initially, was that I wanted them to establish a committee that made recommendations to the board. That way when they made decisions on curriculum or undertook building repairs, they would think about climate change and lowering their carbon footprint. I had just started volunteering for the Philipstown Climate Smart Task Force, our mission being to reduce our town’s carbon footprint and educate the community. My mind immediately latched onto the very symbol of education, my son’s public school.
Schools are like mini-towns. They use vehicles (buses), natural resources (water, energy, materials), produce waste (food, solid, electronic), and impact land use (parking lots, fields, building footprints). Unfortunately, they also tend to be very inefficient. Often buildings are not weatherized, the lights are not LED, the power is coming from non-renewable energy sources, and they consume oil or natural gas to heat the buildings. If I could make an impact on the school, it could ripple out to the wider community.
That’s the practical side of a Climate Change Resolution, but I would argue that the symbolic side is even more important. As a learning organization, schools have a special responsibility of reflecting community norms and values. A school that says, “Yes, climate change is real,” on the record, and, “Yes, we need to do something about it,” is making an incredibly powerful statement.
Park Guthrie, a teacher out in Sonoma County, California, helped launch the Schools for Climate Action campaign along with his children Kai (then 14) and Lola (then 13), teachers, parents, and students. They’re on a mission to break the silence and get schools to speak up for climate action.
When asked what Guthrie thought the impact of these school board resolutions might have on school and community culture he responded “For nearly all the school boards, it may be the first time the words ‘climate change’ are spoken aloud at a formal school board meeting. For nearly all school boards, it’s the first time they have officially recognized the enormous burden climate change places on their students. Just resolving this disconnect publicly and officially, shifts local culture in subtle but important ways.”
Up until very recently the silence by our elected leaders, at all levels, around climate change was deafening. School board members are elected officials as well. What better person to speak for the future of our children than school board members? That is why part of our resolution calls on all levels of government to act on climate change.
When asked how elected officials have been responding to these resolutions Guthrie recalled a response one member of Congress gave him. “Politicians fear young people. A groundswell of student and school board climate action resolutions sweeping across the country would be very effective at moving climate-disengaged politicians.”
Eventually the Garrison Union Free School, after some discussion over a course of board meetings, passed the Climate Change Resolution. We became the first school on the East Coast to pass one. There are now 29 schools across the country with Climate Change Resolutions. Schools for Climate Action will be bringing these resolutions to elected officials in Washington, D.C. in March.
Since our school passed the climate change resolution, I’ve had the pleasure of chaperoning the GUFS middle school students to two Youth Climate Summits and we are hosting our own Youth Climate Summit in May 2019 and will be inviting 80 students from schools in our area. The teachers, staff, and students are excited to be hosting our own summit, and the response from other schools has been very positive. There is a real hunger to teach students solutions to climate change.
Fast forward to today, I have a first grader, I’m the PTA President, and I definitely know my way around the school. As President, I’ve passed a resolution to eliminate plastic and reduce waste, and I’ve asked the PTA membership to endorse carbon pricing at the state and federal level. And I’m already thinking about how I can engage the NYS level PTA to tackle climate change.
I will continue to push and integrate climate and sustainability into the school wherever I can because I’m fighting for the future, and our children deserve a livable world.
Want to replicate this idea near you? Here are some ideas: