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Six of our 7th- and 8th-grade students recently participated in the first annual Youth Environmental Sustainability Summit (YESS!) at The Ashokan Center in Olivebridge. 

YESS! is a global climate solution and leadership summit for young people who are ready to change their lives and their communities by working towards climate resilience. The three-day event was designed to empower students from middle school through college by teaching them to develop solutions-based thinking and civic engagement skills. 

Over one hundred students from twenty schools attended the summit, including students from Sweden and the UK.

The opening plenary of the summit featured renowned climatologist Dr. James Hansen. After he spoke, students challenged some of his remarks. “Our students spoke truth to power,” said Dr. Susan Paynter, Head of School, who attended the event with the students. “This was demonstrated consistently as they fearlessly debated ideas with global experts.”

Featured at the event were peer-to-peer learning sessions as well as workshops with cutting-edge regional scientists and climate experts. Many of the workshops were hands-on and focused on building skills in leadership development, empowerment, and civic engagement.

“One of the most compelling things I learned was how prevalent environmental racism is in this country,” states 8th-grader, Maitreya Motel, adding, “Learning about sustainability is important because if people aren’t educated, how can they make sustainable choices?”

“What I was most struck by at the conference,” says faculty participant Bridget Corso, “was how student-led, student-driven, and student-owned the conversations and activities were. The participants were empowered and creative in their discussions and brainstorming. There didn’t seem to be any feelings of despair or helplessness; the energy was electric with possibility and promise. Of course, it’s important for educators and other adults to convene, as well, but the true value of this event was in the children coming together and becoming authorities in shaping their own future.”

At the end of the summit, students were given guidance to develop a YESS! Action Plan to implement in their schools and communities. Our student created an action plan to improve recycling and waste management at school, organizing a grade-to-grade competition to curb unnecessary trash. Results will be revealed at the upcoming Bright Ideas Festival, a free STEAM-based event open to the public, on April 26th. This year’s festival features a sustainability theme throughout!