Martha’s Vineyard Charter School senior Aiden Donovan wasn’t sure what to expect at Friday’s first annual Youth Climate Summit. “Will there be enough people?” he asked. “Will we get everything together in time?” We walked toward the Fern and Feather barn on the Felix Neck campus, which hosted the all-day event. The 200 or so engaged, energized, and empowered students spoke for themselves — the summit was a staggering success.
Donovan was one of three students on the leadership committee central to Friday’s event, joined by MVRHS juniors Emily Gazzaniga and Owen Favreau. But the summit was a team effort made possible by educators, staff, students, and volunteers at Felix Neck, the Charter School, and MVRHS.
“When Josey [Kirkland] came into the classroom and said she wanted to bring a climate summit to the Vineyard, I immediately volunteered to be part of the leadership team,” Gazzaniga said. “I’ve had a growing interest in climate change. This is our future, and something we need to handle immediately.”
Kirkland is the environmental educator at Felix Neck, and has spent the past year working with students in the Protect Your Environment (PYE) clubs, as well as students and educators at the Charter School and High School.
“We worked through the winter developing this,” said Jonah Maidoff, longtime teacher at the Charter School. “Josey and I have been going back and forth on this whole thing with the students.”
“The involvement, questions, and inquiries from the kids have just been next-level,” Kirkland said. “This day has gone better than I ever could have imagined.”
The summit started at 8:30 am with breakfast and a welcome. Food was donated by a number of Island groups including Vineyard Grocer, Little House, Pasta for the People, M.V. Kimchi, Chilmark Chocolates, the M.V. Bread Project, and Scottish Bakehouse.
Students from fifth to 12th grade from the Charter School, regional high school, and lower schools in Oak Bluffs and West Tisbury broke off into roundtable discussions. Topics included food justice, sea level rise, sustainable shopping, renewable energy, sustainable fishing, agriculture and farming, and waste reduction. At 10 am, students heard from keynote speaker Matthew Arsenault, a technical information specialist from the U.S. Geological Survey. Students broke off into more roundtable discussions touching on architecture, sustainable fishing, air quality, civic engagement, and ecological impacts. Lunch coincided with climate presentations by juniors and seniors at the Charter School.
“Their big projects were on climate change,” Maidoff said. “It’s pretty in-depth, and required a lot of initiative. They had to go out in the community and conduct interviews. We even have a podcast.”
High school science teacher Louis Hall was a key player in preparing for the Climate Summit, as was Charter School science teacher Jane Paquet.
“All of our climate cafes, education, and project morphed into this big event,” Maidoff said. “It’s active and real. Students aren’t playing, they’re engaging people in really thinking about their environment.”
The group broke out in an activity period, which included an upcycled T shirt craft, a “needs and wants” exercise, a movement activity led by educators at the Yard, and a walk through the Felix Neck sanctuary. The event concluded with students coming up with a Climate Action Plan.
“Think about topics from today that you find most compelling or driven to action to,” Kirkland told the group. “Flesh out a plan for how you can implement change in your jobs this summer, or if you go to camp this summer, or if you travel. Or maybe get something ready to start at the next school year. Make an action plan together. One person can make a difference, but collectively, you are that much more powerful.”
Kirkland left the group one more message. “You are the kids, the future that’s going to make a difference in this world,” she said. “And the adults you see around you, we support you, fully. You are not alone in this.”