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Every Day is Earth Day

This is a phrase that I see and hear a lot in the run-up to what has now become a globally recognized day of support and awareness for environmental causes. It is an idea that made me consider the value of our very own ‘Green Week’ here at school. The last thing we need is for environmental consciousness to be compartmentalized into a series of selfies and hashtags at this one-off event, rather than be an embedded sensibility that informs our choices on a daily basis. After some reflection, I realized that ‘Green Week’ is about inspiring and empowering people to make a difference in their lives and the lives of others. It’s like winding up that toy car so it can speed around the track.

The climate crisis that we currently face is a challenging topic to engage children in for a number of reasons. The scale at which it is affecting our planet is difficult for small children to comprehend. They can grasp the idea of a polar bear having nowhere to live, but how our daily choices here in Chicago are causing that is difficult to grasp for most adults, never mind younger minds. It is also challenging to balance the need to share an urgent message without causing worry and alarm. Perhaps a little bit more worry and alarm is just what the adult leaders of our world need, but for small children, it is not fair to motivate them by fear when it is not even them that has caused the problem. As educators, we also know that we are often at our least effective when we are in the ‘blue zone’ or the ‘red zone’. Another barrier that I see in schools is that children often feel powerless to make any meaningful difference. So much of a child’s carbon footprint is determined by their parents and children have expressed to me that they feel the choices they make have little impact on the larger issue. If we are to use the window for necessary action put forward by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of 12 years, then by the time these children are in positions of influence, it could already be too late.

The Green Week events were designed to help children feel empowered to create change in their own lives and inspire those around them. The week began with an assembly that saw us celebrate children and staff members that had inspired people to make better environmental choices. Each class carried out an energy audit to identify specific things in their classrooms and homes that could be done to reduce the amount of electricity they are using. As a result, the children felt informed and able to make meaningful differences in their own lives. We were fortunate to have parent volunteers speaking to children in our rooftop garden about how they can grow food and support biodiversity on their own balcony or in their back yard. The special screening of The Biggest Little Farm demonstrated to us how perseverance and big ideas can lead to incredible change, even when it feels like the odds are stacked against you. The final event of the week saw staff and families come together at Foster Beach to take environmental action to address an issue that affects us on a local and global scale. Together we removed almost forty pounds of mostly microplastics from the shores of Lake Michigan. It was great to see people giving up their Saturday morning and coming out in the cold to work together for this particular cause. Through turning off laptops and interactive whiteboards at school, to picking up microplastics on Foster beach, Green Week had a measurable positive impact on our environment. However, the real success of Green Week will be measured in the months ahead. As Green Week disappears behind us and our attention turns to all the other things happening in our busy lives, Green Week’s legacy will live through the choices we make in the coming year. I know the conversations that I have had with staff, parents and students have left me feeling inspired, particularly by the incredible potential within our community to make the bold steps required to play our small but important part in this great global challenge.

-Alex Hinde, Science Teacher / Health & Safety Leader