In December, a team of excited students from H.B. Whitehorne Middle School attended the Climate and Environmental Change Teen Summit at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. The team consisted of 11 eighth graders—Ashley Baumgard, Max Handler, Vincent Hogan, Rebecca Katsios, Anna Konrad-Parisi, Christopher Lakin, Sloan Lawless, Chloe Mathewson, Jimin Park, Erin Petrino, and Olivia Vogel—and HBW science teacher, Amy Heckel. The Verona team joined 8th to 12th graders from all around New Jersey to learn about Earth’s rapidly changing climate and the accumulation of drastic effects of climate change if humans continue to watch as bystanders. The students were given the option to interview town officials about their town’s plan for climate change or to implement an action plan for their school, and create a video that would be entered into a video competition in May.
“It’s very easy to overlook the impacts of climate change because we do not notice the direct effects in our everyday lives–yet,” says Heckel. “This project seemed like a great way for my students to learn what individuals in Verona are doing and for them to teach others as well.”
A number of environmentally conscious organizations in Verona have taken steps over the past few decades to make our town more sustainable and mitigate climate change. Consequently, the students decided to focus their video on Verona’s plan for climate change. The students interviewed Gloria Machnowski, president of the Verona Environmental Commission; Steven Neale, head of the Sustainable Verona committee, and Lisa Freschi of the Verona Board of Education. The students also had the opportunity to speak with Fred Krupp, a 1972 graduate of Verona High School who is the long-time president of the Environmental Defense Fund and was a key participant at the 2015 United National Climate Change Conference in Paris. The team shared educational student-made games at the Verona Green Fair in May. After many weeks of script writing, recording and research, Hogan, the team’s video making master, compiled their video footage and posted it on YouTube.
On June 8, the HBW’s climate change team returned to Rutgers for the second half of of the Climate and Environmental Change Teen Summit. When they first arrived, the students went on educational tours around the campus. Next, the students spoke with Rutgers graduate student Filipa Carvalho, who described her work as a scientist and encouraged some of the rather shy students to share their thoughts about climate change.
Afterwards, Rutgers announced the student viewers’ choice award and the scientists’ choice awards. The HBW students won scientists’ first choice out of 12 entries, including high schools in Bergen and Monmouth counties that focus exclusively on science and technology. They collected a $300 prize.
The students had a fun time creating the video and learned a lot too! They wanted to share what they learned through this unique experience:
Ashley Baumgard: “Before this project, I really didn’t realize that there were so many individuals and groups in Verona working to combat climate change. Now I’m really proud of what these individuals in our community are doing.”
Max Handler: “It was great spreading awareness about climate change and hanging out with our friends at the same time.”
Vincent Hogan: “Being a part of this project has really opened my eyes to how much our town is doing to help limit the effects of climate change.”
Rebecca Katsios: “Just a few months ago, the issue of rapid climate change seemed like a huge problem kids like us would not be able to stop. However, taking part in this project proved to me that even the smallest changes to make our daily lives a little greener can help our planet greatly.”
Anna Konrad-Parisi: “Before I started working on the climate change summit video I was aware of the dangers of climate change, but through the project I found out the many ways Verona actively mitigates climate change in our community.”
Christopher Lakin: “It was satisfying to know that our town wasn’t just waiting for climate change to affect us, but is already taking action to become more sustainable through environmentally friendly means. I hope we rose awareness with our project, and showed people that it’s a fight worth fighting for.”
Sloan Lawless: “We want to be known as the generation that took action to help stop climate change, not the one that sat idly by while our Earth was destroyed by our own lack of concern.”
Erin Petrino: “It was an amazing experience that really opened my eyes to the harmful effects of climate change and what I can do as an ordinary teen to help protect the environment.”
Environmental sustainability has always been an integral part of my life. I loved sharing what my community is doing to combat climate change with other people as interested as me. I hope that HBW students will continue to attend the Teen Climate Change Summit and promote greener living.