I walked into the room with completely new faces and warm smiles around me. Chairs in a circle, Kendra and Addie – the 2015-16 YEA! MN Co-Chairs – introduced the new YEA! MN coordinator: me. This year in YEA! MN, we opened every meeting and gathering in a circle. Ask any student that has been a part of YEA! MN over the years, and you’ll hear the emphasis on building community. To me, the formation of a circle is an intentional choice. It sets an implicit intention to build and connect with one another, and gives us the energy of one another’s presence.
This school year followed an arc of learning and growth, which centered around elements of identity, environmental justice, climate literacy, storytelling and taking action. As a young organizer myself, these elements have been influential parts of my development towards taking action in my communities, from a school setting to my local community to statewide or national mobilizations.
This learning arc offers a sequence of learning that builds and informs the ways we, as young people, can take action. The learning arc instills a curiosity in learning about who we are as people, the multiple identities we hold, and how our identities differ and relate to others’. It also creates space to build a deeper understanding and connection to the issue of climate change, and how it intersects with other struggles we see playing out in our communities. Our exploration of environmental justice has been the means for students in YEA! MN to build relationships with people in the local East Phillips community (where Climate Generation is located) and to learn about the intersections between environmental degradation and racial and economic inequities.
Students’ action projects took shape with guidance and support from the elements of the learning arc. There were a variety of action projects that YEA! MN students planned and pursued this year; some highlights include: South High’s annual bike to school week promoting sustainable transportation, Great River High School’s restarting of their green team, Avalon School students leading on the creation of a greenhouse and compost station, a collaborative environmental justice bike tour in East Phillips, and successful Earth Day celebrations and events at the School of Environmental Studies and St. Paul Central. To read about more action projects, check out this page featuring stories from students, sharing their experiences on the ground in their schools and communities.
The closing of this powerful and meaningful year took place at the Steger Wilderness Center up in Ely. We were surrounded by endless trees and stars at night, open space and gentle spirits working on a variety of projects around the Center. Most importantly, we were together. We cooked together, jumped in the lake together, reflected together and shared our learnings over the year. Themes of learning and growth emerged from the students’ reflections. Students shared thoughts on personal and emotional connection with oneself and the issues in the world, as well as what it means to build an intentional community within YEA! MN, local schools and communities and in the broader climate and environmental movement. Another key learning and area of growth was around how to take strategic action, and how shifting perspectives and narratives around the issue is a huge part of that.
In a circle of affirmations, we shared appreciations for our graduates and our co-chairs and interns. Love notes were written silently to one another in the group. Prompts like, “Write a note to someone you are proud of” or “Write a note to someone you want to get to know better” spark this note writing. I have deep respect for each YEA! MN high school student, for their curiosities and consciousness about the world around us. The act of reflecting and capturing where we are is part of growing and deepening this work. I’m grateful for this first year coordinating YEA! MN and excited for the powerful times ahead!