2018 Western Mass. Youth Climate Summit Empowers Students to Make Change

By Jessica Schultz

“I can make a change in my community to solve climate change, and not just sit around thinking I can’t do anything to help.” Climate Summit Participant

What do you do if you are a high school student concerned about climate change? At the Hitchcock Center, we offer students the opportunity to attend the Western Mass Youth Climate Summit to grow their knowledge and prepare to take action within their school community.

All the participants in the 2018 Western Mass Youth Climate Summit.

The Western Mass. Youth Climate Summit was held November 8 & 9, 2018 at Hitchcock Center for the Environment and Mass Audubon’s Arcadia Sanctuary. Jointly organized by Hitchcock’s Education Director Colleen Kelley and Mass Audubon’s Climate Education Coordinator Brittany Gutermuth, the Summit’s two days of learning sought to empower 60 high school students from 6 local high schools, supported by 10 local college students, teachers and workshop leaders.

Valley Bike presents to student participants at the Western Mass Youth Climate Summit.

The 2018 Climate Summit sought to support youth empowerment through building confidence in climate communication, advocacy and action, facts and ideas. On day one, concurrent workshops were about gaining knowledge to become a leader in climate action and how to communicate this information. The bike panel, include Valley Bike, and the afternoon Hampshire Farm tour were opportunities to see how changing individual habits can lower carbon footprints through activities that many of the students could relate to – biking and eating!! Finishing the day, artist Tem Blessed provided a passionately creative drive for action as a method of communicating the message. One student commented, “It changed how I will participate in solving the global climate crisis in that I feel like I can talk to people who don’t understand climate change in a much better way. I feel as though I could make them understand about it and that I could help teach people of all ages.”

Mycologist Sue Van Hook peaks to Western Mass Youth Climate Summit participants.

Summit workshop presenters included: Sue Van Hook and mycologist discussing the important role of mycelium in carbon storage in the ground, Shaina Rogstad (UMass Geosciences) and Toni Lyn Morelli (USGS Reasearch Ecologist) on how to talk about climate change, Witter Swanson, on youth experiences from the first Youth Climate Center at the Wild Center in New York, EcoFellows Olivia Horowitz and Jonathan Ruiz from the Center for EcoTechnology, and many more. The culmination of the event and day two activities included support and time for each team’s development of a Climate Action Plan for their school, including direct actions and proposals for changing patterns in the immediate community.

“I didn’t really know the best ways to advocate for and participate in climate change prevention, and I feel like I have those skills now.” Climate Summit Participant

Student teams included environmental clubs, environmental science classes, or were students known by their teachers to be interested in the climate conversation, from Amherst Regional, Frontier Regional, Hampden Science Charter, Hampshire Regional, Northampton, and Holyoke.

This year’s teams will be supported by Summit organizers as they carry out their Climate Action Plans which include proposals to:

Amherst Regional High School

– Install solar panels in parking lot

Frontier Regional High School
– Host a youth climate summit for elementary school students
– Install motion sensors on lights and faucets

Hampden Charter School of Science
– Start and environmental club

Holyoke High School
– Install water bottle filler and hand out reuseable water bottles
– Reduce cafeteria food waste

Northampton High School
– Host a Zero Waste Week

Energy artist Tem Blessed raps with a Western Mass Youth Climate Summit participant.

What were the student’s favorite parts of the Climate Summit? Hands down it was rapper and energy artist Tem Blessed who brought the house down with his passionately creative drive for action, making the science and state of the climate accessible through the artistry of words and music. Tem, a resident of Hadley and a graduate of Umass, has shared his work with Bioneers Conferences and 360.org. While his performance concluded the first day of the Summit at the Hitchcock Center with vibrant energy, the opening of the second day began with a nature and art project at Arcadia Sanctuary. Both arts segments served to ignite student passions helping to break down barriers to working together and communicating in ways that speak to our emotional connections rather than simply the factual issues of the problems. The arts component was a new feature of the 2018 Summit.

In addition to the fun, students participation increased their comfort levels with climate change as indicated by pre- and post-surveys:

Question: How confident are you in talking about climate change?

Answer Pre-Summit: Extremely 5% | Very 17% | Somewhat 66% | Not very 12%

Answer Post-Summit: Extremely 15% | Very 50% | Somewhat 30% | Not very 5%

Question: How confident are you in taking climate action?

Answer Pre-Summit: Extremely 27% | Very 37% | Somewhat 34% | Not very 2%

Answer Post-Summit: Extremely 35% | Very 50% | Somewhat 15% | Not very 0%

Both Brittany and Colleen will continue to work with the high school students during the coming year as they work to implement their Climate Action Plans. We’re excited to see what they accomplish!

2 responses to “2018 Western Mass. Youth Climate Summit Empowers Students to Make Change”

  1. MelissaAloisi says:

    How do I find out about getting Hopkins Academy involved next year ?

    • Jessica Schultz says:

      Hi Melissa, Please contact our Education Director Colleen Kelley about getting involved. You can reach her by phone 413-256-6006 or via email at colleen at hitchcockcenter .org.

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