Student-Led Sustainability

Panel Discussion at Superintendent's Conference Day

“It concerns both of us how everybody is aware of the earth’s condition, but no one is really trying to act or raise awareness of the consequences ahead,” said Mei-Mei, looking steadily at the completely booked workshop of educators.

“We want to find ways to bring awareness of our earth into our schools,” said co-presenter Avery. “Our ideas focus on younger grades because we ourselves are younger.”

The two poised speakers are in fifth grade. They were among the 12 students who led a panel discussion on sustainability for teachers and administrators from all schools and levels at the district’s recent Superintendent’s Conference Day.

Students share how important sustainability is to them

The session was a new phase in the district’s steady steps towards sustainability. Over the last 15 years, educators and local experts have enacted many climate-friendly policies across Katonah-Lewisboro Schools. On this morning, educators would listen to what is important to students.

All of the speakers were members of the Green Team at their school, which includes opportunities to collaborate with teachers and administrators at the district’s Sustainability in Our Schools initiative led by Dr. Mary Ford, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, with Melissa Brady and Jim Panzer, sustainability curriculum integration leaders, and Steve Zoeller, staff developer for STEAM and sustainability. The team of educators is implementing the district's priority of empowering students to plan and take actions that lead to a sustainable future; they also put together the morning's workshop. 

“The students had so many ideas I never would have thought of,” said Panzer, in his introduction of the workshop. “They all have really strong reasons for being here, which they’ll share. We are so proud of them.”

Waste Reduction and Student Empowerment

Sixth grader Reilly and sophomore Alex spoke about waste reduction. “I’m concerned about waste because it harms the environment and animals,” said Reilly. Alex offered ideas to integrate waste reduction at school. Teach students about people who have helped the environment in the past. Talk about the importance of composting in the morning announcements. “At the high school, we love to buy John Jay merchandise,” said Alex. “Sell refillable John Jay water bottles.”

Each student presentation was followed by a brief break-out session. Small groups of educators had a few minutes to speak with student experts, followed by a talk back to the group. “Our table spoke about the importance of connecting the district with the town,” said one teacher. “If our families know how easy it is to compost through the local community, they will do it.”

Austin, who is a member of Lewisboro Sustainability Committee’s Food Scrap Recycling Initiative, nodded.

Other connections were made, too. When sixth grader Sahej spoke about protecting animals and sea creatures, he shared that he became a vegetarian last year. “It’s very hard. I like Austin’s idea of Meatless Mondays in the cafeteria.”

Senior Senna presented the final student priority: recognition awards and scholarships for student achievement in sustainability initiatives at school and in the community. “An awards program would help students achieve sustainability goals they are most passionate about,” she said.

community effort between students, teachers, administrators & families

In the closing talk back, Increase Miller Elementary teacher and Green Team advisor Jane Emig noted that many high school students are having a wonderful immersion in sustainability because of the courses they are taking or clubs they join. “How can we improve our district so that every student has that exposure, not just those who seek it out?” she wondered.

It was fitting that students had the last words, among them Senna. “Teachers – if you know you have students in your classroom who are interested in environmental issues, talk to them,” said Senna. “Ask them what they are interested in doing or studying. Having an open dialogue with a teacher is so important.”

"As you can tell, students really care."