• Academics
  • Intensives
  • Upper School
Student-Made Guide Aims to Build a Better World

Upper School students learn how much agency they have during this semester-long class and intensive.

Students created the Civic Action Resource Guide to inform and inspire readers

The students in the Upper School Environmental Ethics and Advocacy semester and intensive class created a 105-page Civic Action Resource Guide during the winter intensive. The guide explores 20 different topics, and each topic includes information on critical aspects of the issue; people or organizations working on the issue; and action steps to get involved to create positive change. English Teacher Christina Serkowski says the project goal was to find a way for students to take action, despite the very limited time and everyone working at home.

Our hope was that students come to understand how much agency they do have, and that they can start making a difference right now, if they choose to,” says Christina, who co-taught the class and intensive with History Teacher Karen Sherwood.

Student Abby H., 11th grade, worked with three other students on the Climate Justice: Pollution in the United States section. She says her group is really passionate about the topic, and that passion made it easy to dive deeply into the research. “We looked at climate justice and learned that climate change is affecting People of Color more than White Americans,” she says. For example, one in every ten children in America now suffer from asthma, yet for Black children in the U.S. that number rises to one in six.

One slide in this project includes information on a toxic spill in Colorado: “In 2015, while attempting to safety-proof the Gold King Mine, which had been out of commission since 1922, the EPA spilled 3 million gallons of wastewater into the Animas river. The incident released harmful metals throughout 200 miles of river on the Navajo Nation land, destroying their drinking water, food supply, and lands.”

Each section of the Civic Action Resource Guide includes problem solvers: everyday heroes who are making real change on issues that the students care about. “Once students see the methods that can be used to make change, and learn that there are as many ways to be involved as there are creative problem-solvers, then they can start to see themselves as agents of change,” says Karen. Students built their toolbox by learning about how government works, how to contact their legislators, and practicing dialogue around the thorny issue of climate change by participating in a roundtable summit. In this summit, they took on the roles of different countries and stakeholders trying to address climate change.

Karen and Christina also make sure students know that acting through the government is only one of many ways to take civic action. Through creating the guide and sharing their work with each other, students learned 100s of ways to act. The students in the class felt that Laila R.’s The Dairy Industry project showed ways they could help immediately. Laila learned that if everyone adopted a vegan diet now, we would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent by the year 2050. “While that would be a huge step forward, becoming vegan doesn’t work for everyone,” she says. “A good strategy is becoming a Flexitarian, which means reducing your meat (and dairy) intake, aiming to eat 15 or more meatless meals per week. If everyone worked toward this goal, we would still reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to positively affect the environment.” 

Student Celestine R., 12th grade, says that working on this guide made her realize that even though the things we are able to do individually may not seem like they are helping, they are helping. “If we all do what we can and contribute in ways that are possible on a more local level, that’s valuable work,” she says.

Celestine hopes people will find inspiration in the Civic Action Resource Guide, while also exploring ways to help locally and looking at social media to find ways to help. “Teens and young adults are doing so much more work on these sites than you might think, and they would all love to help you find a great cause to give your time to,” she says.

By Writer/Editor Nancy Schatz Alton

Read more about the 2021 January intensives here and here and watch the winter intensive video.

More from PrepTalk