Empowering Young Environmentalists

Days before world leaders headed to Scotland for global climate talks, three fifth graders at Meadow Pond Elementary came to school an hour early to interview Paul Christensen, Katonah-Lewisboro Schools’ director of operations and maintenance, about what the district was doing to reduce greenhouse gases and increase sustainability.

a new weekly segment

Fifth graders Marcella, Theo and Blake sat on one side of a conference table. Paul Christensen, Katonah-Lewisboro Schools’ director of operations and maintenance, faced them through a computer screen, speaking remotely from his office at John Jay High School.

“When did you start doing things to help the environment?” Marcella asked Mr. Christensen, followed by, “Do you have any plans to take additional steps towards decreasing our carbon footprint?”

The interview was set up by Meadow Pond Elementary’s Assistant Principal Dawn Pomeroy and will air on the school’s daily show Meadow Pond Report, kicking off a weekly environmental segment called Tree-Hugging Tuesdays.

Student-led climate conversations

Student Ambassadors interview Paul Christensen

Sustainability in our Schools

Connecting students to Katonah-Lewisboro's energy expert was prompted by Pomeroy’s participation in the district’s new Sustainability in our Schools initiative—bi-monthly meetings of teachers, staff and administrators who are committed to giving students opportunities to take real action on climate change and learning more themselves.

When she found out three of Meadow Pond’s fifth grade leaders, called Student Ambassadors, were interested in sustainability, she told them about Christensen’s role in the district and suggested they interview him. Marcella,  Blake and Theo wrote their questions that day, during lunch.

KLSD is Committed to action on climate crisis

“I began my work in sustainability when I was in middle school, through scouting,” said Christensen. He described his current work with the district’s Sustainability Committee, a group of community members and administrators that reports to the Katonah-Lewisboro Board of Education. It's been in action for the last dozen years. “We’ve reduced our fuel use through improving our schools’ insulation, implementing more efficient equipment and using renewables like wind power for electricity.”

Through thoughtful questions, the students learned that their food scraps were trucked to the Putnam Recycling Center where they biodegraded into compost. They found out that the 14 wind and solar lamp poles across the district provide off-the-grid light in areas that didn’t have good illumination. They asked for better signs in the cafeteria so students would know what could be recycled.

“Everything that we do—from composting and being mindful of recycling to reminding our parents not to idle their car engines when they sit still—makes make a difference,” Christensen reminded the students. “They seem like baby steps but if everyone takes a baby step it equates to a giant step worldwide.”

empowering youth as change agents

After the interview, the students discussed the conversation with Pomeroy and Steve Zoeller, the District’s Staff Developer for Sustainability and STEAM, who had been listening in.

“I’m really interested in the windmills outside of our schools,” said Marcella. “I wondered if we could put more up and if they could power more things.”

Blake wanted to circle back to the idea of using methane to power school buses.

Theo had asked Christensen about solar power. The interview left him wanting to do more research on their expense and viability for the district.

Pomeroy shared that her adult daughter’s work with animals impacted by the climate crisis inspired her to be more informed and involved in environmental causes. The District’s Staff Developer for Sustainability and STEAM, Steve Zoeller, echoed that insight. 

“I became passionate about sustainability through my daughter who’s majoring in environmental studies,” Zoeller encouraged the elementary students. “Someone who is young can change the habits of older people like me and other members of your family.”