Green Herons: Learning Through Experience

Espoir and the Green Herons at Great River School are members of Youth Environmental Activists of Minnesota (YEA! MN). YEA! MN is a core program of Climate Generation, dedicated to engaging and empowering high school students to lead on the transition to a just and resilient climate future for all.

IMG_2844This year started off a little rocky for the Green Herons – the environmental club at Great River School. The first half of the year meetings were inconsistent and leadership was unspecified and unsupported. So, the club took a hiatus until we could identify a leader who could dedicate more time. When we began again in January, we had many new faces and not many returnees from last year. This created a whole new atmosphere within the club and gave us renewed drive to create new events and projects for the second semester.

We successfully completed our Bike to School Day Event in May and our collaborative Earth Day event with Macalester College students on April 22. The Earth Day event included workshops for the Upper and Lower Elementary and A1 (7th and 8th grades) and a school-wide “Day Without Lights” and students were encouraged to refrain from using their battery powered devices and computers as well. The Bike to School Day Event was supported by donations from MN DoT, Breadsmith, and the St. Paul Police Dep. and parent volunteers who volunteered to lead groups of students from all over the city on their bicycles to school.

We also successfully wrote and planned a grant to install electric hand-air dryers in the all of the bathrooms at Great River School. We created a connection with the Elementary grade levels which is very important to create events for the whole school and continue to gain interest from different grades to attract more members of all ages. Since January we have carried out weekly meetings, brainstormed project ideas and goals, selected our two events with goals, and carried them out. A member of our team in A2 (9th and 10th grade) also served as compost patrol during lunch hour, to increase efficiency in our compost system.

In addition to all of this, we participated in two petition drives in support of the Next-Generation Science Standards and against sulfide-mining in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

However, there were many things we talked about during meetings and never were able to complete. We found it was challenging to move past the brainstorming stage and get to the work of carrying out ideas and plans. We entertained many ideas of electric hand-dryers, more compost bins (for collection and decomposition) and working with nearby companies such as Best Western Hotel, Kemps offices and Aspen Medical to change their systems to be more sustainable.

While we encountered challenges with outreach and peer engagement, we were able to get past the fact we had a small group with limited capacity. We still organized successful action projects, thanks to the dedication of our four consistent members. We thought of different ways Green Herons could exist – be it before school, during after-school time or during lunch hours. But in the end we realized it wasn’t the time frame that was affecting attendance, it was a lack of communication throughout the whole school about the Green Herons, why the group exists, and when and where the group meets. This is a big learning and a goal for next year – to ensure that the Green Herons can continue to improve and grow through clearer communication with the broader school community.

(the bikes were part of our huge turnout from all the grades for Bike to School Day, and the slack-line we used as a huge bike rack in the parking lot)

(the solar ovens were for cookies we tried to make for Earth Day)

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