November 8, 2019; Baltimore Sun

In the recent climate strikes, student activists have been at the forefront of a movement holding political leaders accountable for not acting on the climate crisis. Often, school officials have encouraged this activism; across the world, schoolteachers and administrators are finding ways to support student interest in climate change.

A Miami-based nonprofit, Dream in Green, is helping schools creatively incorporate environmental sustainability education and rewarding those who go the extra mile. According to their website, their Green Schools Challenge has resulted in $3.1 million saved through solutions that have decreased schools’ energy costs. An estimated 74,000 students have been educated in finding green solutions through its programs since 2006.

In the Green Schools Challenge, students assess school environmental footprints and set realistic goals to improve sustainability in such areas as energy efficiency and conservation, waste reduction and recycling, water conservation, alternative transportation, and food efficiency. Schools that complete the most monthly challenges can compete for awards at an end-of-year ceremony. The program is aligned with school districts’ science curriculum for easier integration, and Green Leadership Grants can be submitted for funding to assist with program costs.

The climate emergency, of course, has major implications for the health and wellness of the next generation, and the crisis disproportionately affects students from low-income neighborhoods. The Green Schools Challenge gives students the opportunity to not only understand their environmental impact, but to find solutions and effect change.

“Kids are the most powerful catalysts for change in society. So we challenge those kids to go out and find ways to reduce energy consumption, reduce water consumption, reduce waste, and respond to climate change,” founder Nicholas Gunia shared in a TEDx Talk.

The program has served 330 schools in South Florida, with hopes to expand to all schools in Miami-Dade County. Given the fact, as acknowledged by the county’s government, that the region is one of the “most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, especially sea level rise,” it would be difficult to overstate the importance of this education for the school system’s students.—Julie Euber