High School Students Draw 150 Youth to Leadership Workshop at Power Shift 2013

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40 Minnesota high school students attended Power Shift in coordination with the Will steger Foundation delegation

Hello, our names are Sophia Showalter and Elayna Shapiro, and we are Steering Committee members for Youth Environmental Activists of Minnesota (YEA! MN), a program of the Will Steger Foundation, and both students at Hopkins High School. Last weekend, we had the amazing opportunity to travel to Pittsburgh to attend Power Shift, a youth environmental conference that brought over 6,000 people together for four days of workshops, speeches, and direct action. Neither one of us had ever experienced anything like it. Most of the time, our projects in our high school Earth Club and YEA!MN revolve around trying to make the public more aware of the environmental problems in our state, country, and world. This can make being an environmental activist seem like a lonely endeavor. However, seeing so many people with the same passion for change was incredibly motivating and invigorating. This feeling intensified on Saturday when YEA! MN and the Green Schools Alliance led a workshop entitled, “High School Students Can Change the World!”

In planning this workshop, our goal was to create a space where high-schoolers could come together to collaborate and get advice on their projects. We also wanted high-schoolers to walk away feeling empowered and motivated to become more involved in their school and community. We had no idea how many people would choose to come to our workshop, so we were very excited when we drew a group of 150 people. We began with a panel of six students, each representing an organization. I (Sophia) represented YEA!MN. Each panelist gave a short synopsis of projects they were working on within their school or community. I talked about a summer garden project my school club organized. Throughout the summer, we tended to a garden and donated 140 pounds of vegetables to a local food shelf. Then we broke out into five different sections based on interest: transportation, leading and engaging student clubs, energy and water conservation, composting and waste management, and social justice.

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Students discussed transportation, leading and engaging student clubs, energy and water conservation, composting and waste management, and social justice in small group breakout sessions

I (Elayna) and Aurelia Rosko (another YEA!MN member) led a discussion about leading and engaging school clubs. First, we had everyone introduce themselves. As a way to guide the discussion, we had everyone write down a question or topic they wanted to discuss. Then, everyone pooled their cards together and picked a different one. To start the discussion, we had someone choose to read the card they picked. In this way, we facilitated a discussion about leadership. We tried to create a relaxed atmosphere to encourage people to participate. Going into the discussion I was worried that I would do most of the talking. However, by the end I realized each person, in the group of about 10 people, had contributed something to the conversation. Throughout the discussion, we talked about ways to recruit other students to your club and how to work with your administration. These are both things high school clubs struggle with. At my school, the Earth Club is comprised mostly of seniors, so we are working extra hard to bring in younger students. We also have learned how to work with our principle and other administrators. This is an important skill because often times a project involves changing school policies or implementing new ideas at the school. Many people had similar questions and it was great to hear other people’s advice- how they handled a similar situation and how they dealt with a certain problem. Our workshop definitely stood out compared with the other workshops we attended. For every other workshop there was a panel of speakers who answered questions and discussed the topic at hand. We learned a lot from these other workshops, but the one we led was the only one where we were able to contribute. After the high school workshop, we both felt that we had helped someone else, and gained something from another.

Power Shift opened our eyes to how intricate, yet united the environmental movement is. People often argue that the environmental movement is weak because there are so many different problems environmentalists are focused on, instead of being united under one cause. This actually strengthens our movement. We all have a common goal, improve the world. We might not all go about it the same way, but that is alright. If we want to see change in how our society and government views environmental problems and social inequalities, the best way to do that is to facilitate change on a local level. Before Power Shift, we would often get discouraged because we felt that no matter how hard we worked to be environmentally friendly and aware, it didn’t make a difference compared to all the horrible things that were happening to our planet. However, after Power Shift we realize that even though the efforts we make seem small, if we’re all making an effort within our communities; to educate people, to change laws, and conserve-it adds up. Our view on the environmental movement has definitely shifted. Even though there are many ways environmentalists choose to act, we all contribute and that’s why we will continue to push for change- and shift the power.

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A core program of the Will Steger Foundation, YEA! MN supports a network of high school environmental clubs working together across the Twin Cities Metro Area to empower student leadership on climate change solutions at home, at school, and in the wider community.

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