Student climate activists deserve support from their schools
Youth gathered at Pliny Park in Brattleboro for a Global Climate Strike in May.

Student climate activists deserve support from their schools

‘Our schools should be giving them the tools to demand change so that they can do more than simply cling to survival in a world destroyed by those of us too shortsighted to demand change ourselves’

BRATTLEBORO — We are taxpayers in this school district. Many of us are parents and grandparents of children in our public schools.

On June 5, many of us attended a Youth Climate Summit at which a group of seven middle- and high-school students each read a heartfelt and powerful statement about how climate change and the existential threat to the planet is affecting them. Many of the adults present were deeply moved, some to tears.

We have been asked by these same students to support them and to speak up for them. This letter is in response to that request.

When these students participated in an international Youth Climate Strike on May 24 and voluntarily organized a full day of actions to discuss climate issues, they felt that the high school administration was not only unsupportive, but actively hindered their efforts.

This year is a high-stress time for young people. Millions of youth around the world are becoming more aware daily of the threat to their future from the massive emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere. Our Brattleboro youth are among them.

When an international youth action occurs, whether it is in solidarity with the students in Parkland, Fla., about gun violence or inspired by Greta Thunberg, the teenage environmentalist from Sweden, we need to consider organizing for change a vital part of our educational system.

Humans' ability to think critically, to speak up, and to act together may be the only thing that saves us in the near future.

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The students who felt unsupported during the Youth Climate Strike also felt strongly that their school was not offering adequate time and depth in the study of the climate emergency. To have a school in Brattleboro, Vt. not include in the curriculum the study of climate change is not only astonishing, it is deeply disturbing.

These young people have a good chance of emerging as adults in a world very different from the one we have all enjoyed. Lethal heat waves, rapidly rising oceans due to polar melting, massive animal extinction, famines, violent storms, and huge numbers of wildfires are just some of the challenges that will intensify as they emerge into adulthood.

Our schools should be giving them the tools to demand change so that they can do more than simply cling to survival in a world destroyed by those of us too shortsighted to demand change ourselves.

The students in this district deserve as much support as possible in the work to create a sustainable future for themselves and the generations to come.

We encourage you to make the climate emergency your top priority in the coming 2019–20 academic year and to champion, rather than suppress, the students who are dedicated to addressing climate issues.

We suggest that you dedicate Sept. 20, the date of the upcoming worldwide Global Climate Strike, to climate education. Perhaps the entire week could be dedicated to it.

We would also urge you to be sure that Mikaela Simms, the diversity coordinator, be part of the team planning that education, so that leadership from frontline communities [those experiencing the “first and worst” consequences of climate change] and indigenous communities is highlighted in this week of education.

Students who choose to leave school to participate in community activities should not be penalized, and climate education would be the focus for students who choose to remain in school.

Students could plan this Climate Education Week with the help of their adult allies and educators. We are here to help plan this event and we look forward to the Windham Southeast School District becoming a leader in the transformations necessary to create a regenerative and sustainable future for all of us.

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