Earlier this year, several 7th-grade students and our Sustainability Science teacher Sonya Friel attended the Ashokan Center’s third annual Youth Empowerment & Sustainability Summit (YESS!) in Olivebridge, NY. Our team joined like-minded students from grades six through twelve for this immersive, three-day event. This year’s theme was From Coalition to Action: How to Lead Change in Your Community.

Students attended a series of informative presentations and workshops, and also engaged in team building activities, musical performances, and educational hikes. They discussed important issues surrounding climate change and climate equity with sustainability experts, including State Senator Michelle Hinchey, Tim Guinee of Climate Action Now and The Climate Reality Project, and Dr. Allison Thompson, founder of Third Wave Volunteers. Also at the event were several youth representatives of empowerment and climate action groups such as Students for Climate Action and The Wild Center. Sustainability practices were incorporated throughout the event, not just in the presentations and discussions, but also during the zero-waste mealtimes, the educational nature hikes, even the material for the name tags.  

During the 3-day summit, students from each attending school worked together to share the sustainability initiatives already in place at their school, and to brainstorm other effective methods for implementing sustainability practices in their everyday lives. The summit culminated in the creation of an ‘Action Plan for Sustainability’ for each participating school. Students created their action plan based on the breakout groups and lectures that they attended during the summit, and presented their plan to the other groups at the end of the third day.

“Being able to make a plan to change how our school approaches sustainability was really exciting. We were given so much support and advice from the presenters at the Ashokan Center about creating a good and strong plan for IMS,” said 7th grader Charlotte Sutton-Do.

Ms. Friel, IMS Sustainability Science teacher, also utilized the summit to learn more about sustainability practices and build connections with local schools and sustainability experts. She added, “I was inspired by everything that I learned and by discussing sustainability practices at other schools. I definitely plan to go back and implement some of the topics and ideas into my curriculum!” 

Education that is rooted in service-learning and leadership is woven through all grade levels at IMS, helping students understand the ripple effects of their actions, both in their community and on the environment. Participating in events like the YESS! summit empowers students to use what they’ve learned to implement positive change.