The Garrison School Hosts Environmental Summit for Middle School Students

May 20, 2019

Swedish environmental activist Greta Thurnberg can take a breather. There are some students in the Hudson Valley eager to step up the pressure on lawmakers to address climate change, and a Youth Climate Summit held at The Garrison School last week gave them the tools to get started.

The summit, modelled on 70 others worldwide organized by The Wild Center Natural History Museum in the Adirondacks, began with a keynote speech from 2009 Garrison graduate Lindy Labriola, a geologist who recently completed a Fulbright scholarship studying socio-economic implications of a warming climate in Norway. With an audience of 120 middle school students, Labriola discussed the planet’s changing climate and what it means to small communities.
Her message made an impression. “Do you think there’s any hope for the government to start listening?” asked sixth-grader Violetta Edwards of Haldane.

Labriola said that events like the Youth Climate Summit were a good step toward both educating and empowering youth activists and that the youth movement inspired by Greta Thurnberg was having an impact.

“It’s something that really, really bothers me,” Edwards said of climate change, adding that she has started a newspaper to communicate the message and is involved in activities in her community like removing invasive plants. “I really want to spread the word and keep doing something because unless we actually do something then we are just as bad as the politicians.”

The Summit featured a morning of workshops designed to educate and empower students to effect change. “The whole thing is solutions based,” said Garrison PTA President Krystal Ford, who organized the event together with Garrison Middle School science teacher Kevin Keegan.

With a 181-acre forest on school grounds and the Hudson River nearby, Garrison School is  very attuned to the environment and environmental issues, said Garrison Principal Alex Levine. Gathering support for the summit, Levine said he connected with interested schools through the Curriculum Council at Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES. Middle school students from six school districts attended: Byram Hills, Carmel, Haldane, Highland Falls, Fort-Montgomery, Manitou School, Putnam Valley, and Tarrytown, in addition to Garrison students.

Students chose two of 11 workshops, which included practical climate solutions, such as an examination of mushrooms’ contribution to climate solutions, renewable energy and geoengineering options, and tools to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions. The PNW BOCES Green Machine was available for hands-on exploration of energy-saving construction options and a Clothes-Aren’t-Trash workshop addressed recycling and waste. Three of the workshops focused on creating youth climate advocates.

At the workshop on Building a Youth Climate Movement given by the Hudson Valley Sunrise Movement, Manitou School seventh-grader Colin Hopkins was thoughtful about crossing the fine line in activism. “We want to be activists, not terrorists,” he said.

Garrison eighth-grader Maya Gelber, one of several student leaders who helped organize the Summit, was very pleased with the day. “It’s really amazing to see all these young people so enthusiastic and taking action; taking control of their own lives. It makes me hopeful and it’s empowering to see so many people who care.”