Nov. 11, 2021 — A new pollinator garden in front of the Hayden Dormitory is just one tangible demonstration of NMH students being good stewards of the environment. “Climate change is a terrifying challenge for humanity, and the last thing I want to do is sit back and do nothing,” said Sasha Kracauer ’23, who, along with Meena Relyea-Strawn ’23 and Sophie Goldberg ’23, built and planted the garden. They are all Ecoleaders — student leaders commissioned with educating the school community about sustainability and environmental issues.
Ecoleaders’ efforts are focused on campus and beyond. At NMH, students have created new signage about recycling and composting, revived a campaign to recycle pens, mechanical pencils, and markers, and boosted school-wide communication and education about sustainability. In addition, the Ecoleaders launched the Climate Justice Coalition (CJC) to broaden their reach and impact and help get more students involved in climate action. CJC has, to date, added 50 student members who are helping with initiatives set by the Ecoleaders. Skylar McAlpin, the faculty advisor to the Ecoleaders, described the coalition as “the ‘people power’ to help accomplish initiatives, while also learning about climate change issues in more detail. It gives more students opportunities to get involved with climate action.”
“The problem of climate change is not something in the future,” said Relyea-Strawn. “And, the urgency of taking care of our planet is both a necessity and an opportunity to take action.”
For CJC member Kitty Zhang ’24, protecting the environment became a focus at an early age. It all started after she moved to Jeju, Korea, at the age of 8 and found herself “surrounded by nature, clean air, and the ocean.” This move presented a stark contrast to her original home in Shanghai, China, one of China’s largest industrial cities. Known as Korea’s Hawaii, Jeju’s citizens and government prioritize protecting the environment. “My world was flipped,” Zhang said. “Jeju is a role model, and I wanted to educate people so they can be aware of their actions and make a change.”
Beyond the NMH campus, students are exploring advocacy and best practices for global impact. James Lee ’22 was selected to participate in a national panel of climate, energy, and policy leaders leading up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (also known as COP26) that is currently underway in Glasgow, Scotland. NMH alum Rob Werner ’79, New Hampshire state director of the League of Conservation Voters, helped connect Lee to “The Road to COP26,” a national hybrid event that brought together students, young professionals, nonprofit leaders, elected officials, business leaders, and climate/clean energy activists. Lee said, “It was important for me to ask questions because I care deeply about the environment. I sincerely want to know where we as society stand in terms of climate progress.”
Kracauer, an Ecoleader, worked closely with the Hitchcock Center and Mass Audubon to organize the recent Western Mass Youth Climate Summit at the Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton. Four NMH students attended the summit, where they learned about climate science and generated action steps to bring back to campus. After learning about local, national, and international climate movements, such as the global movement Extinction Rebellion and COP26, students at the summit created a plan that combines education and action. It includes a climate awareness week in the spring that would involve components such as workshops and screening documentaries. Students also discussed having the next all-school book be about climate change and branching out to nearby communities to help with food sustainability and other projects or drives.
Kracauer added, “What I loved most about the summit was that instead of invoking fear in us, it inspired us to act, and showed us that our actions can be expressed in many ways, in art, in politics, in education. Climate action can extend to all areas of life.”