The environment is very important to young people. You can see that in small children. Ask a first grader to tell you about their favorite animals. They will no doubt tell you that these animals – whales, elephants, wolves, butterflies, turtles – are endangered by human activities.
Caroline Hickman conducted a study of 10,000 young people (16-25 year olds) around the world to find out how they felt about climate change. In large numbers, these young people reported feeling desperate, concerned and scared about climate change. They also reported feeling betrayed by leaders who failed to act.
Our young people expect us to do something about climate change. One way to do this is to start a green team at your child’s school.
Action is the antidote to despair.” -Joan baez
What is a school green team?
A green team is simply a group of students who come together either during or outside of school hours to address environmental issues. Green teams combine learning opportunities with action and field projects. Teams need an advisor – a parent, a teacher, or ideally both.
Don’t know what it means to lead a green team? Do not worry about it. There are numerous programs across the country that support green teams with resources and information.
For example, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has defined its THE GREEN TEAM program as “an interactive educational program that empowers students and teachers to help the environment through waste reduction, reuse, recycling, composting, energy conservation, and pollution prevention.” Many of their Materials are available on their website.
Green Schools has a comprehensive list of green education programs in different states. Some even have a curriculum based on learning standards.
How do you bring a green team into your children’s school?
First things first – Get other parents on board
You cannot run a Green Team program alone. You need at least a few other parents in your corner. Do you know other environmentally conscious parents who would like to work with you? Ask parents you know. Use social media to gauge interest outside of your own circle.
Partners with school staff
Once you have a few people on board, check with your child’s school. Reach out to the principal and ask what kind of support they can give your team. Push for a staff connection. Ideally, one employee is present at your team meetings. This is especially important if you are hoping to implement changes within the school itself.
Keep the children’s interests in focus
Before your first meeting, have the children fill out a form explaining why they want to join the team. You get a sense of where the interests of the students lie. The great thing about kids is that they don’t think in bounds – they want to fix everything now.
Your job as a green team leader is to channel the students’ energy into projects where they can be effective change agents. We’ll talk about that in a moment.
Build a positive team culture
To help your team work together constructively, you need to establish a positive team culture. There are a few simple things you can do to make this happen.
- When you meet as a group, sit in a circle. Otherwise, students will focus on adults and not each other.
- Encourage the group to learn each other’s names. Knowing a person’s name is the first step in building relationships.
- Set some rules that everyone can agree on. Address how students speak to one another—no disparagements, respectful disagreements, etc.
- At the end of the meeting, take time to process. Ask the group what they think of their work. What worked well? What could go better next time?
Teams with a supportive culture spend less time on conflict and more on the work at hand.
Teaching children how to set sensible goals
We mentioned that children tend to think big. They will say things like:
- “I want to save the planet.”
- “We must protect endangered animals.”
- “Everyone should stop polluting the environment.”
These ideas are great – we all want these things. But they are not reachable by this one student team.
Teach your team SMART goals – goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound.
Ask leading questions like:
- What steps will we take to reach our goal?
- How will we know that we have reached our goal?
- How will we communicate our goals to others?
- How will reaching our goal look like?
Saving polar bears from extinction is not a SMART goal. It’s too vague, it’s not measurable, and it’s not achievable. An example of a SMART goal is to reduce the school’s energy use by 10%.
Projects Your Green Team Can Do
There are dozens of projects your green team can undertake to protect the environment and address climate change.
Here are some examples of projects that are measurable, specific, and achievable:
- Conduct a school waste audit. How much rubbish is thrown away? Does the school recycle as much as possible? Reduce weekly trash weight by x number pounds.
- Start a school composting program. Consider how many pounds of waste the program diverts from the landfill.
- Introduce the straw free challenge. Educate the school community about why plastic straws are harmful. Track how many straws are used in the cafeteria before and after the awareness campaign.
- Start a recycling collection program like Trex or TerraCycle. With TerraCycle you can even collect reward points that can be donated to the school. Weigh items and track rewards.
- Organize a community cleaning. Measure the garbage and report this to the municipality.
- Work with local businesses to reduce single-use plastic bags. Make signs to hang in stores.
Starting a green team at your child’s school won’t end climate change, but it’s a start. More importantly, it helps young people feel empowered to take action. Who knows where this will lead?
Other Green Team projects and resources: