Room 205b at Grattan Elementary School in Ashbury Heights looks like the classrooms I sat in as a kid. The walls are painted a bright, happy blue and filled with drawings and posters. There’s a respectable stack of Nancy Drew books in the back. Squirmy fourth and fifth graders sit on the carpet around a teacher who asks them what actions they can take to be respectful and responsible.
“Stop buying from destructive companies like Amazon,” one of the students shouts.
Today’s kids are not like the kids I remember from my school days. They are change makers. They are fearless public speakers. They are real-life Harry Potter heroes. In San Francisco, and around the world, young people are organizing mass demonstrations, pushing ambitious legislation, like the Green New Deal, forward and urging candidates to make climate change a priority.
Simply put, today’s kids are already shaping their future on this planet.
At Grattan, fourth and fifth graders helped create an Ecology and Climate Action Resolution calling for community action on ecological health and climate change. The resolution was finalized during Grattan’s first, schoolwide Eco Action Conference last week.
The events showcased student presentations on environmental topics, such as on plastic pollution, climate change, water issues, biodiversity and electric cars. The kids talked about changes they should make, including avoiding yummy Nutella snacks because the product contains palm oil.
“Kids do their own research,” Meredith Charpantier, a teacher at Grattan and one of the event organizers, told me. “This is a great opportunity for them to dig deep.”
Students Cassady Allen, Lise Arnaud and Katelyn Evans received special praise for their environmental efforts. After an overnight field trip at Marin Headlands Naturebridge Environmental Science program, the fifth-graders decided to launch a campaign to reduce waste at school. Their target is plastic “sporks,” or a spoon-shaped utensil with tines at the tip, packaged in light-weight plastic baggies.
Allen, Arnaud and Evans raised $400 for new, reusable cutlery by selling smoothies. Unfortunately, they haven’t raised enough for the school to buy a new dishwasher. But the students are hopeful they can reach a solution with the school that will allow future students at Grattan to reduce plastic waste.
“If you work hard enough and aren’t lazy then you can make a change,” the soon-to-be middle school students told me. “Most kids don’t think they can make a change and then they grow up and think that as a grown up. We’re only three and we’re changing the whole school!”
Kristen Tam, a graduating senior at Lowell High School, spoke at the conference and encouraged more elementary students to become activists. Along with participating in climate change demonstrations, Tam also led the effort to institute a trial “Green Menu” program at San Francisco’s public middle and high schools next year. The program will highlight sustainable products and educate students about the environmental impact of their diets.
“If you’re persistent and continue to talk to people and push for things they will get done,” Tam advised the elementary school students. “The more kids go into middle school already knowing about this the better.”
Leaders around the world should pay attention to young people like Tam and the elementary students at Grattan. Companies must become more sustainable if they want consumers to buy their products in the future. Politicians must prioritize environmental policies if they want to stay in power. Last week, young people in Europe voted members of the Green party into power in what is being dubbed, a “Green Wave.”
Parents and educators should also take note. Children aren’t too young to understand concepts like climate change, plastic pollution and dramatic drops in biodiversity. They aren’t too scared and the problems aren’t too complex. In fact, as the students at Grattan demonstrate, sometimes children understand the need to act more than adults.
“They know now and they are wise now,” Serena Unger, a parent of a kindergartener at Grattan and one of the organizers of the conference, told me. “Children use the planet just as adults use the planet and we need to include them in what we do.”
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Robyn Purchia is an environmental attorney, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time. She is a guest opinion columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner. Check her out at robynpurchia.com