YEA! MN Wraps Up Strong Program Year: Spotlight on Student-Led Action Projects

YEA! MNThis has been a fantastic year for the YEA! MN steering committee!  Not only did our students excel in statewide organizing by bringing over 100 youth to the Youth March for Climate Action Now, and over 70 youth to our Lobby Day in the winter, they also found time to organize more locally in their schools and communities.  YEA! MN Steering Committee members worked on fantastic sustainability projects in their schools all year long.  A key aspect of the YEA! MN mission statement is that our program seeks to “to empower student leadership on climate change solutions at home, at school, and in the wider community”.  As YEA! MN program staff, we support students in their schools by visiting and offering direct support, offering mentorship at our Steering Committee meetings, and passing along grants and programs that our students can use to strengthen their localized work.  But really, the most powerful support that our students seem to get comes from each other.  Members of our YEA! MN Steering Committee support and encourage each other all year long. It is so hopeful and humbling to hear the wisdom shared between these young people.  I love hearing a student say to another who may be struggling with a school project, “We did this last year!  Here’s what worked for us…”

Here are a few stories of what some of our YEA! MN Steering Committee students have been working on this year at their schools: Bryn, active in the Steering Committee for two years, goes to St. Paul Central High School.  He is the leader of his high school’s environmental club, Roots and Shoots.  This year the club’s focus has been on installing a hydration station in the school cafeteria with the hopes of cutting down on the school’s plastic bottle waste.  There were times when Bryn came to our meeting exhausted by the foreboding prospects of organizing a groups of already super busy high school students, filling out complicated grant applications, and navigating the daunting school bureaucracy to get the proper approval.  But as the year went on Bryn’s approach became more direct and confident.  Towards the end of the year all grants were submitted and Roots and Shoots held a dodge ball tournament fundraiser at their school that was a huge success!  Now as the year ends, things are looking up for Bryn!  Hopefully the grants will come in this summer and next year when students enter the Central cafeteria for the first time, they can fill their water bottles with fresh, cold water from the Roots and Shoots’ hydration station.

Katie, a first year Steering Committee member and YEA! MN co-chair, knew from the get-go that her passion was in environmental/sustainability education.  She is a senior at Roseville Area High School and has been a tremendous leader both here at YEA! MN and in her high school’s environmental club, E.A.R.T.H. Group.  For the past couple year’s Katie’s focus has been on bringing other high schoolers interested in environmental education into the area’s middle school to work with students there on sustainability issues and projects.  This year Katie was concerned about getting enough middle school students involved in her program so she talked to a middle school science teacher who happened to be the head of the already existing environmental club.  This teacher proposed that Katie and her high school friends start to take on the planning and activity of the already existing club, which has 20+ excited and engaged middle students in it!  As a result Katie’s project is bursting with life and activity, and she has already taken the consideration of lining up another high school leader to fill her shoes after she leaves next fall for college.

I remember attending a Green Tigers environmental club meeting almost two years ago.  Green Tigers is the environmental club at Minneapolis South High School.  Four of its leaders, Shira, Kate, Audrey, and Zosha, are all active members of our YEA! MN Steering Committee.  When I visited last year the students had just started implementing a composting system in the school cafeteria.  The Green Tigers found that because the system was so new, South students just threw away all their food and didn’t use the compost system appropriately.  The students decided to take turns standing by the bins at each lunch period and politely informing their fellow students on how to use the compost bins.  Now, the Green Tigers no longer have to spend there lunch periods standing next to smelly bins of food!  Their attempts at educating their fellow students on the merits and mechanics of composting paid off!  With the composting system up and running the Green Tigers were able to focus on other fantastic projects this school year.  They invited young activists from the Sierra Club to lead a presentation at their school about the Tar Sands and fossil fuel use in general.  They also planned another successful annual “Bike to School Day” where businesses donate gift cards and prizes awarded to students who bike to school.  The Green Tigers have been an integral part of YEA! MN, and they have also dramatically influenced their school for the better! I am so proud to have been able to work with these students and to see their dreams become reality. Their hard work and dedication is humbling and inspiring. In their work we see their future roles as important leaders solidifying. In these projects we see the roots of a better, more sustainable future. I am so proud of our YEA! MN students! We couldn’t have had a more inspiring year!

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A program of the Will Steger Foundation, Youth Environmental Activists Minnesota (YEA! MN) connects Twin Cities metro youth to facilitate shared skills and strategies and to take coordinated action towards environmental sustainability. YEA! MN is a youth-driven network of high school environmental clubs including 20+ public, private and charter high schools from a cross-section of urban and suburban districts.

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