Upper Valley students address climate change with little fanfare

  • Grace Derksen, 18, of Norwich, plants a tomato plant with classmate Audrey Lee, 18, of Hartland, during Jeannie Kornfeld's Earth Systems and Ecological Designs class at Hanover High School Friday, May 10, 2019. The class has just completed a major climate action plan for the school and plans to present it to the school board later this month. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hanover High School science teacher Jeannie Kornfeld oversees her Earth Systems and Ecological Designs class, including Aidan Biglow, 18, of Hanover, left, as they create a sustainable agriculture system in the greenhouse at Hanover High School in Hanover, N.H., Friday, May 10, 2019. The class has completed a major climate action plan for the school.(Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dina Hertog-Raz, 17, of Norwich, holds a worm while making a worm bin to help digest compost during the Earth Systems and Ecological Designs class at Hanover High School Friday, May 10, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dina Hertog-Raz, 17, of Norwich, left, and Lauren Gemery, 17, of Norwich, plug the holes in the bottom of a cup while watering seedlings in the greenhouse at Hanover High School in Hanover, N.H., Friday, May 10, 2019. The nutrient rich water is part of a closed loop in a sustainable agriculture system they are creating during their Earth Systems and Ecological Designs class. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/13/2019 10:00:29 PM

In March, students around the world made headlines as they walked out of school to call for action to reduce global warming. The walkout, organized by the U.S. Youth Climate Strike movement, was only the most visible evidence that young people are fired up about climate change.

Along with lending their voices to such protests, area youth are advocating for the environment in ways ranging from the inspirational to the practical.

“I think it would be foolish for my generation not to involve ourselves,” said Audrey Lee, 18, a senior at Hanover High School. “I believe that as a generation, my friends and I have really been burdened with a lot of these issues. ... In a way, I think we have a responsibility to fix the planet for future generations.”

Lee is a student in Hanover High’s earth systems and ecological designs class, which has been working for two years on a climate action plan for the high school, a school serving about 700 students, primarily from the towns of Hanover and Norwich. Jeannie Kornfeld, who teaches the class, said it’s the first of its kind in the country.

“It gives students hope,” said Kornfeld, who revamped and renamed her environmental science class two years ago to take a more constructive approach to the topic. “It’s great to have walkouts. It’s great to have guest speakers. But when you can put together a whole plan for a school … it empowers them.”

The 40-page action plan, which students hope to present to the Dresden School Board later this month, aligns with New Hampshire’s climate action plan and the Paris Agreement, Kornfeld said.

Working under the volunteer guidance of Kornfeld’s daughter, Hannah Kornfeld, an environmental scientist in Sacramento, the class has crafted a set of actionable goals that could be realistically reached over the coming years, Kornfeld said. Last year’s class researched the relevant science and policy, and this year’s class drafted the plan. It proposes actions in key categories, including building energy, solid waste, wastewater, water consumption, employee and student commute, school buses and cafeteria.

“It was very much a team effort,” said Lee, who lives in Hartland. “We all took different tasks and figured out what elements we’d want to implement.”

The plan includes small measures such as composting paper towels and providing carpooling incentives, as well as more ambitious goals such as upgrading the school’s heating system or finding a source of sustainably harvested wood chips for the current heating system.

Costs aren’t attached to the plan, but if the School Board approves it, Kornfeld, who also serves as an adviser for the school’s Environmental Club, hopes to help put together a climate action plan team composed of students, parents, teachers, administrators and School Board members to hammer out the specifics.

Meanwhile, other youth-centered efforts to care for and call attention to the environment are under way.

In addition to working on the climate action plan, Leila Trummel, 18, has been exploring ways to build sustainability education into the school curriculum as part of her senior project. She’s worked with teachers in numerous classes to infuse lesson plans with components of environmental education. She’s also developing a website with links that teachers can access and hoping to add a sustainability tab to the school website.

“It’s such a widespread problem, you can connect it across all the curriculum,” said Trummel, who lives in Etna.

The topic resonates with young people, said Trummel, who is also a member of the school’s Environmental Club. In her years in the club, Trummel has seen attendance grow from an average of 15 to an average of 40.

“It’s getting bigger and bigger. People are understanding the problem better,” she said. “It’s exciting to know that a lot of this stuff is student driven.”

Along with their enthusiasm, young people truly wield influence when it comes to conversations about climate change. A report published in Nature Climate Change and reported by Vice earlier this month found that children between the ages of 10 and 14 were more effective than experts and the media in convincing their parents that climate change is real.

That’s one reason that Miriam Osofsky, a local psychologist with a practice in Lebanon, is reaching out to student activists in planning a Sunrise Green New Deal Town Hall to mobilize citizens around the climate crisis in the lead-up to the 2020 election. The event will take place next Friday, May 24, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., at Hanover’s Richard W. Black Center.

“Young people are seeing that it’s their future on the line and becoming depressed and worried about whether their quality of life is going to decline, and life is going to become increasingly painful,” said Osofsky, who is collaborating with a group of Dartmouth students who recently started a local chapter of the Sunrise Movement, a national, youth-led political effort founded last year.

Osofsky said her biggest motivation in getting involved with climate activism her own children. Her older son, Sam, 22, has multiple disabilities and depends on other people to support his daily activities. “I have this horrible vision of what will happen if we don’t reduce global carbon emission ... and Sam not understanding why the world is collapsing around him,” she said.

While some young activists take practical measures and others enter the political fray, still others seek a more artistic approach. Local musician Megan Helm has organized a youth chorus to perform at a multimedia concert about climate change on Thursday, May 23, at 7 p.m., in the Town Hall Theater in Fairlee. Featured as part of the Montpelier-based professional Counterpoint ensemble’s “Six Degrees” program, the Adventure Kids Choir will sing songs from around the world that focus on nature, love and peace.

“These poor children, they just don’t feel like they have any voice at all,” said Helm, a music educator who has worked in numerous school settings and has her own studio in White River Junction. “We talk about, how do we use our voice as a group to amplify the message?”

The young musicians, who range in age from 6 to 16 and come from several area towns, have developed a palpable sense of empowerment and unity at their weekly rehearsals, Helm said.

“You send the excitement into the room, and it gives back,” she said.

After the performance, Helm hopes to continue helping young people bring attention to the climate crisis through music. She’s planning a summer camp for August and hopes to establish a permanent home for the Adventure Kids Choir at the Seven Stars Arts Center in Sharon later this year.

Helm envisions taking the group to parks and recreational areas where they can inspire the public and experiment with the acoustical elements of natural spaces.

“We’re an a capella group, which I think is significant because we can go anywhere and sing,” she said.

Sarah Earle can be reached at searle@vnews.com or 603-727-3268.




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