Caption: Students and teacher Mrs. Kargas from Russell Reid Public School pose with Hannah Alper, second from left, and Katie Hashimoto, right
“I’m a little embarrassed today,” revealed Superintendent Wayne Baker as he addressed an auditorium of elementary students, most members of their schools’ eco clubs, during Grand Erie’s seventh annual Eco Conference last week. “I’m embarrassed because your generation is going to have to clean up the mess my generation made.”
It seems students are up to the tall task. The energy and determination of the current generation of young people – both in Grand Erie and around the world – was on full display during an inspiring day of learning in the beautiful natural setting of Camp Trillium Rainbow Lake near Waterford. The Eco Conference included workshops on topics that will assist schools’ eco club’s plans, and a galvanizing keynote address by youth activist Hannah Alper.
Alper began her keynote by describing the allegory of the starfish on a beach following a storm, and the resolve of one young girl to save as many as possible by tossing them back into the sea.
“You’ll never be able to save them all,” a detractor in the story tells her of the large effort required to rescue the thousands lining the sand.
“No, but I just made a difference for this starfish,” comes the reply as she helps one back into the water.
Alper’s message was certainly one of courage and action in the face of what often seems insurmountable. She was almost indistinguishable from the crowd of students she spoke to, save for the headset mic she was wearing. That’s because the motivational speaker and author, who has interviewed Malala Yousafzai and spoken to international crowds in the tens of thousands, is 16 years old.
“The most critical thing you can do when you care about something is learn more about, and continue learning about it,” said Alper. “You don’t have to have all the solutions to start taking action and fixing the problem.”
Alper also highlighted the activism of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish secondary school student who has become another role model for young people, protesting against governments that lag in taking action on climate change, despite mounting evidence that public policy needs to address the worsening problem.
“Now more than ever, it’s crucial we all do our part to ensure a healthy, happy future for ourselves and the planet,” said Katie Hashimoto, Grand Erie’s Supervisor of Energy and Environmental Conservation, who was instrumental in planning the Eco Conference. “Grand Erie continues to work towards its goals of improving energy and conservation at each of its sites, and days like today help empower students to continue the amazing work they’re doing through the eco clubs and school community initiatives.”
One of the six pillars of Grand Erie’s Multi-Year Plan is Environment, and it works to not only to help the Board’s buildings become more efficient and environmentally friendly, but also to build a culture of care for our spaces, the resources we use, and the efforts needed to protect the natural world. Events such as the Eco Conference go a long way in driving action and awareness towards those goals.