Summer for NW Washington kids is changing. Their school year should change, too

We're rolling out new and expanded programs to support students and educators facing another high-anxiety school year in the COVID-climate era. | September 2, 2021

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Our region’s youth—along with the adults in their lives—are entering another school year strained by both an ongoing pandemic and climate change impacts hitting close to home. After a summer of dangerous heat waves and asthma-inducing, COVID-exacerbating wildfire smoke, children in Northwest Washington are grappling with the stark reality that their summers already look quite different than they used to. This generation won’t be afforded the luxury of viewing the climate crisis as a “someday” problem or a “future generations” problem. Today’s youth seek to turn learning into action, knowing that action is what’s so urgently needed.

In the words of Jamie Margolin, seventeen-year-old founder of Zero Hour, “In the face of climate change, hope only comes in the form of action.”

RE Sources’ Sustainable Schools program has been around for years, but their stalwart staff can’t remember a school year quite like last year. Along with the rest of the education system, the COVID pandemic upended RE Sources’ programming traditionally focused on in-person, in-classroom environmental education opportunities. The Sustainable Schools team wanted to equip students with the ability to not only seek the answers to the questions they were asking but do it in a way that offers hope and truth.

“If we listen to what the youngest members of our community are demanding and offer them a seat at the table, together we can create a better education system and, in turn, a better future for us all.”

“The world is different, and our approach to preparing students for that world should be too,” said Priscilla Brotherton, Sustainable Schools Program Manager for RE Sources. “If we listen to what the youngest members of our community are demanding and offer them a seat at the table, together we can create a better education system and, in turn, a better future for us all.”

In response, the Sustainable Schools program piloted a new slate of opportunities for students and educators in the 2020-2021school year that is ready to launch this fall:

Green Team Network: Student-led, community-supported sustainability projects

New this fall, the Green Team Network is a free program that supports K-8 students in Whatcom County to work in teams to solve the real world sustainability issues on their school campus and in their community. The Green Team Network’s goal is to help students identify the areas where their schools can reduce its adverse impacts on the environment by providing the knowledge and tools needed to develop and implement student-chosen, student-led sustainability projects.

Youth for the Environment and People (YEP!): 9th-12th graders learn leadership, collaborate on advocacy projects

Youth for the Environment and People (YEP!) invites high school students in Whatcom and Skagit Counties to collaborate with other youth on a climate action project. YEP! creates a brave space for youth to discover, empower, and refine personal skills and talents, practice stepping into leadership roles, and connect with local organizations working to solve local climate change & justice issues in the region, and understand the basics of climate change and its intersection with social justice while cultivating a solution-oriented sense of hope. Applications for the 2021-22 year are open here until September 12th, 2021.

ClimeTime & Additional Professional Development: First-of-its-kind climate science training and other topics for teachers

Sustainable Schools offers professional development opportunities to Whatcom County educators. RE Sources is part of a statewide network of support for climate science learning, called ClimeTime, that exists to provide the tools and resources to help teachers and their students understand climate science issues affecting Washington communities. The initiative has garnered national and international recognition, prompting the question, why isn’t learning about climate change and taking climate action part of every school’s curriculum?

The Sustainable Schools team collaborated with other regional education organizations to ensure they could offer students a wide range of services instead of similar, competing programs. In addition, they focused on developing frameworks to foster student creativity and support ongoing action as opposed to older models of one-off, “drop-in” visits to schools. Perhaps most importantly, this slate of offerings is free to ensure that all in our communities can participate.

As a community, it’s easy to extend our youth and educators our pity or shallow praise as they enter another tumultuous pandemic school year, but RE Sources’ Sustainable Schools team is committed to doing more—to rolling with the punches and passing the mic to students. It’s going to take an all-out, intergenerational effort to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis here in Northwest Washington, and it’s never too early—or too late—to make a difference.

Drop the Schools team a line!