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Central New York Youth Climate Summit 2024

youth climate summitMore than 100 participants gathered at SUNY ESF on a Saturday morning in February for the "CNY Youth Climate Summit - We are a Force of Nature" sponsored by the New York State Master Teacher Program and PicThe Wild Center. Beth Krauss, Master Teacher Emeritus and biology teacher at Homer Central School District, organized the event with a team of Master Teachers from Central New York.

There were 61 students representing 13 schools including West Genesee, Liverpool , Altmar Parish Williamsville, Homer, Onondaga Central, Cincinnatus, Fayetteville - Manlius, 31 adults, including teachers from Wild Center, ESF, Belleville Henderson, OCM BOCES, All Saints Parish and St Mary's Parish, 20 presenters, and over 15 green fair participants in attendance. Over the last 7 years there have been between 350 and 400 students that have attended the program. The event allowed students from middle and high schools (7th through 12th grade) to come together to develop climate action plans to take back to their schools.  School districts have taken on projects such as composting and solar panels as a result of the students' action plans.

Beth Krauss and the group of NYS Master Teachers, including Maggie Barrett (Camillus MS), Brian Christopher (LIverpool MS), Jessica Halsey (APW), Jason Mauro (OCS), Kristin Reichert (Cazenovia), Mark Sunheimer (Marcellus), Trish Winje (Eagle Hill), lead environmental groups in their schools and collaborate on how to bring the best environmental and climate information to their students. She’s facilitated the event since the beginning, seven years ago. She’s a biology teacher, but ecology has been her specialty, especially climate change and environment education.

youth climate summit - pic2Ms. Krauss explained why the event made an impact on the students involved.  "It's just awesome to have all these kids here, learning about the environment and learning about what they can do for the environment. How, even on a small scale, in their household, they can do something."

Having the event at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) for the last few years has been terrific for the students and teachers who attend the program. Students are able to spend time on a college campus, especially one that is dedicated to environmental science.  The college also provides free resources for teachers who attend. Teachers can attend sessions with the students, or attend teacher-only sessions. There were two blocks of workshops for the day, with a special session for just teachers in each. For example, Kat Chambers and Chris Leece from OCM BOCES led a teacher workshop on Empowering Students to Combat Climate Change Through Public Policy. Amy Samuels and Stephanie Johnson from the Onondaga Environmental INstitute facilitated an interactive workshop introducing teachers to the Onondaga Creek Watershed Curriculum.

youth climate summit - pic3Marua Harling Stefl, Program Manager for “SUNY ESF in the High School” shared about the positive collaboration now in its 7th year: “ SUNY ESF has been excited to partner with the CNY Master Teacher’s group to host the Youth Climate Summit for the past few years. We feel that we can take a role in elevating the conversation by providing access to our faculty and staff who study this topic. ESF is an environmentally based college and climate change issues are part of every program we offer here. As an institution we are also working to make our everyday endeavors more sustainable and we can pass on those values to the participations in areas like program materials and catering.  We also learn from the teachers and youth in attendance--their ideas and enthusiasm are so energizing. This is a tremendous opportunity for our K-12 outreach staff and our faculty. “

The annual Green Fair at the Summit allowed local environmental groups and agencies to highlight their work and careers in sustainability. There were a lot of interactive hands-on activities to engage the students. Agencies like the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and the Onondaga Environmental Institute focused on environmental careers, while organizations like the ESF Mighty Oaks Student Association SustainabiliTEAM introduced students to initiatives happening at the college level.

Ms Krauss reflected on the impact of the day. “There’s a clear community impact, it’s great to see teachers and students working across districts and to have the students see that other young people are energized about the environment and sustainability. They were clearly excited about bringing their action plans back to their districts to implement, and that they could have a direct impact on  their local community”.  She noted that it was terrific to have students in 7th and 8th grade science clubs attend because if they get excited at the middle school level, she has observed that they will then more likely to be active in high school and interact with high school students who are environmentally minded.

The Summit adapts each year to current events and current topics in climate science, such as climate justice issues. Some teachers attended without students to find resources, connect with agencies, and to learn how to start and facilitate environmental clubs in their schools. It’s also been a way for teachers who bring students to interact with their students in a different way than in their home classrooms. They have time to work together as a team with their students to create the action plan at the end of the day. 

For NYSMTP Regional Director Betsey Schuhle,Central NY Master Teachers SUNY Cortland, one of the highlights of the day was the keynote talk on climate justice. EFS Assistant Professors Jaime Shinn and Michael Mikulewicz spoke to the students and teachers about climate justice and how the consequences of climate change are unequally distributed along lines of wealth and race. They spoke about their work, including equity studies in Kenya, the Dominican Republic, West Virginia and with the Native American population in Syracuse.

youth climate summit - pic4A career exploration highlight was a presentation by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) about Road Trip Nation’s newly released docuseries, Empower State. The series follows three young adults as they explore New York State in search of clean energy career opportunities. The talk targeted students interested in pursuing clean energy careers. Another highlight was a workshop on how to combat “fast fashion” in daily life, from reducing consumption to upcycling clothing.  Students transformed old t-shirts into dog toys, reusable bags and rugs and learned how a little paint can breathe new life into old clothing.

Dan Collins, Associate Director for ESF in the High School reflected on the impact of the day: “As the world continues to grapple with the reality, effects, and mitigation of climate change, it is more important than ever to educate and engage our future leaders, scientists, and citizens in hopeful, meaningful efforts to preserve our environment. With our unique mission, and as a State University, ESF is uniquely situated to partner with the Master Teacher program and help students and teachers understand what the current research is telling us, as well as how we can all be involved in the solutions. It is a great program that the Master Teachers work very hard to put together, and we are proud to partner with them in that effort. The program really meets students where they are, empowers them to make change in their own community, and charges them to improve our world.”

Ms Krauss summed up the day, “The students are empowered to create an action plan to bring back to their schools.  It’s a great way for them to understand that they can make an impact to improve the environment on a local level. Whether they choose an environmental career or not, they have learned how to be good environmental stewards.”