The Will Steger Foundation was proud to co-sponsor the first annual Green Schools National Youth Summit in partnership with the Green Schools National Network, in conjunction with the first annual National Green Schools Conference, featuring keynote speakers Will Steger and Phillipe Cousteau. Of the 100+ students who attended the summit, over 25 high schools were represented from Minnesota and the Midwest, as well as the national stage. A small team of National Youth Leaders participated in a pre-summit training where they gained the knowledge and skills to act as peer facilitators during the main event. These student leaders shared their poetry, music, and experience and helped document the summit through film video and photographs. The agenda included peer presentations, leadership training, and action planning on school projects related to climate change solutions.
Siiri Bigalke, senior at Stillwater High School, YEA! MN student Co-Chair, and Will Steger Foundation Climate Champion, joined the National Youth Leaders training and wrote the following about her experience at the Summit:
On Monday, October 25, over one hundred high school students gathered for the first annual Green Schools National Youth Summit in Minneapolis, Minnesota to join forces and help make schools more sustainable. The conference was geared at preparing participants to become effective leaders in their schools and communities as well as inspiring each individual to become an agent of change. Through the ‘GenerationWaking Up’ experience, each person was Awakened, Empowered, and Connected with all the other students to help instill a sense of self-empowerment to create a more sustainable world. This presentation, incorporating music, film, and spoken word stressed the importance of this generation’s need for strong action and support if the shift in our track towards climate degradation is to change. Through learning how to approach this seemingly daunting issue with hope, every individual at the conference learned that climate change isn’t larger than life but a realistic problem that can be handled if the world – especially the youth – can unite to constructively tackle this problem.
Conference participants can all agree that “climate change is not fun”. Especially with first hand accounts of the severity of climate change in the Arctic, by polar explorer and environmental advocate Will Steger, and the distressing decline of the coral reefs off the coast of the Florida Keys by environmental advocate and EarthEcho International founder, Philippe Cousteau. Each shared their moving story and eyewitness account and, more importantly, each supported the youth, encouraging us to take action. “You can’t change the world,” Philippe Cousteau told the audience, stressing that climate change isn’t an issue to be dealt individually. Only with broad international support can this problem be handled to the fullest extent. That said, it still begins with smaller, localized supporting groups. This is why each school left the conference with an action plan and deadline to create effective change in their schools and community.
Not only did the participants leave the conference with the sense of empowerment knowing that they could build that solar panel on their school roof, or they could talk to that skeptic sitting next to them in their biology class but they also left knowing that they can do their part in the face of this seemingly overwhelming issue and they will make a difference. Because they know that behind each of them, are dozens of other youth leaving that conference just as inspired and willing to take a stand to protect their future.
Special thanks to our youth staff, Ethan Buckner and Richmond Appleton, who brought amazing vision and energy to share with the students and provided an inspiring model of climate activism. The event would not have been the same without their leadership. The Will Steger Foundation will continue to track student-led action projects over the course of the year as part of the Climate Champions Program, in partnership with the British Council. We will also continue to engage local high school youth through our YEA! MN program. Stay tuned for updates on both program areas through the Will Steger Foundation website.