Friday, January 12, 2018

Bullis Charter School Students Engage in Global Climate Change Work

Bullis Charter School 6th – 8th grade students have been collaborating virtually with students in nineteen countries including Slovenia, Philippines, Peru, Kenya, Germany, New Zealand, Indonesia, Morocco, Sweden and Ghana to prepare the largest synthesis of youth research on colonization and climate change.  The culmination of this work resulted in two BCS students traveling to Bonn, Germany, to develop a white paper proposing actionable steps and policy initiatives to combat climate change on a global scale, which was then presented at the general assembly at the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference (COP23).  BCS was the only school in attendance representing the continental U.S.

Developing Global Citizens is a core tenet of the Bullis Charter School mission, so BCS Founding Superintendent Wanny Hersey welcomed the opportunity to partner with the Canada-based Centre for Global Education’s #Decarbonize:Decolonize initiative, which engages students around the globe to understand and take action on authentic and meaningful challenges facing the world today.  Hersey launched a #Decarbonize:Decolonize Club at BCS and invited all interested 6th – 8th graders students to join. Thirty three students began meeting over the summer to research many aspects of climate change, including ecological footprints, policy initiatives, changes in weather, deforestation, and the impact of climate change on indigenous people.  According to Hersey, “The integration of the UN Sustainable Goals in BCS’ Project Based Learning units has taught our students to develop empathy, work collaboratively, and solve problems on a global scale.”  The BCS group collaborated with students across the globe in Virtual Town Hall meetings to exchange ideas, debate alternatives, and ultimately create a document that represents their collective voice. BCS also partnered with a school in Peru to explore similarities and differences in each country’s approach to climate change.

Clarissa & Anushka arriving in Bonn for COY13
BCS 8th graders Clarissa Chen and Anushka Srinivasan traveled to Bonn to attend the Conference of Youth (COY13) and represent BCS at COP23. Chen, Srinivasan, and student representatives from 19 other countries worked together to synthesize the #Decarbonize:Decolonize research and draft a youth white paper, which was presented to the COP23 general assembly.  The themes that emerged in the paper were gold mining, hydraulic fracking, and water contamination, but also how young people can address these challenges now.  According to Srinivasan, “We tried to really show how youth could have an impact and our voices were important. We also tried to inspire other children around the world to get involved and make a difference.”  Student artists from all seventeen countries submitted art expressions reflecting their thoughts on climate change for a Global Gallery. The writing team included some of this art in the white paper as a way to express climate change themes without words, making it accessible across many languages. Four pieces of BCS student art were accepted into the Global Gallery. While in Bonn, Chen and Srinivasan also participated in a youth climate change march and met with staff from the Oregon governor’s office to discuss how youth can get involved at a local level.  After seeing their work culminate in an international presentation on climate change, the BCS #Decarbonize/Decolonize club students are energized to continue their work, share their passion and engage others to have their voices heard.
The team amongst artwork representing 17 countries expressions reflecting thoughts on climate change selected for the Global Gallery 
Clarissa, Anushka, and Superintendent Hersey participating in a youth climate change march
Q&A with Anushka & Clarissa

Why did you choose to get involved in the #Decarbonize/Decolonize club?

A: Just sixteen months after my trip to Chennai, India in July 2014, the area was hit by devastating rain and floods that claimed the lives of over five hundred people and permanently affected millions more. As I watched images of the floods on the news and the endless lines of people seeking shelter, I saw places that I had recently visited submerged by the flood waters. Scientists said that climate change was one of the possible causes of the storm, and that floodwaters were compounded by unrestrained construction. Before visiting Chennai, I did not know much about climate change, but after my visit, it became personal. When BCS joined #Decarbonize, I jumped at the opportunity to participate.

C: Before I joined the #Decarbonize:Decolonize initiative, I wasn’t really aware about global warming and its effect on the environment. I decided to join the club out of curiosity to learn more and I thought it would be a cool way to positively impact the world. This project also seemed like a unique opportunity to collaborate and learn from students all over the globe.

What did you learn from your research?

A: From my research, I learned how each part of the world was affected by climate change. My team (including the representatives from Indonesia, Australia, and Canada) did case studies on effects of climate change around the world. We studied the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy in the USA, the Sidoarjo mudflow in Indonesia, gold mining in Costa Rica and Peru, and the Bakken oil fields in Canada. Comparing and contrasting these different activities and events was very interesting and unique. I especially valued hearing from people who were directly affected by each of these situations.

C: Through our research, I learned how the issues within different countries are actually quite similar. Multiple countries face issues regarding water pollution due to mining and/or fracking. This made me realize how important it is for us to decolonize and unite to solve this issue. We are all impacted by the effects of climate change and the solution would benefit us all. If we all come together and make small changes in our daily lives, we can make a big impact. Something as small as eliminating single-use plastic straws, by drinking out of the side of the cup, can make a big change. In the US, over 500 million straws are used per day and each one can take 200 years to decompose if it ever decomposes. It was very interesting to compare our blog posts, through the virtual classroom, with other countries’ responses. An average American can create up to 20 metric tons of carbon waste in a year, while a Kenyan citizen will make less than one ton.

Can you describe your experience in Bonn?

A: My experience in Bonn was enlightening and exciting. Representatives from 19 different countries came to Bonn, and getting to interact with and learn from the other representatives was such a cool opportunity. While there, we wrote a white paper that summarized our work and stories. This white paper was shared at the 23rd annual Conference of the Parties and received international media attention. At the 13th annual Conference of the Youth, I met many people who were also studying the natural disasters brought on by climate change. While I had been moved to get involved because of the Chennai floods, others had been affected by the recent hurricanes in the United States or the droughts in Africa.

C: In preparation, before the trip, we had multiple video conferences with the different countries. Our middle school club of 30+ students met all the other schools within the initiative through one of our conferences. When we met for the first time in Cologne, we already recognized each other. Only a couple days before, we had been miles apart, communicating virtually, and then we were standing right next to each other. On the first day, we began with games and introductions. We also quickly began our work with our slide deck for our presentation at Conference of Youth (COY13). We spent the next few days at COY13, where we presented, attended sessions, and ate warm, vegan snacks and lunches. During the following days, we created the white paper, prepared for presentations, bonded over a theater workshop, and held some live webcasts. On our last day, we presented at a UNESCO school and a couple other friends presented at Conference of the Parties (COP23). Afterwards we celebrated our achievements with an afternoon off. We enjoyed sightseeing, delicious food, and relaxation. Later that evening, we reconvened and received special printed copies of our white paper. We signed each other's copies and shared one last night together. They even surprised me with a birthday celebration, as it was my birthday, which was pretty special. After many goodbyes, we parted our own ways, but continue to stay in touch and treasure our memories together.

What was it like to work with students from so many different countries?

A: Working with students from all over the world was an incredible experience. Everyone had different ideas and perspectives, so we were able to address a diverse and large audience. In addition, the community of students that came to Bonn was so supportive and kind. I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with them.

C: Working with the other students was an amazing experience. Within a couple hours, we became second family and really bonded together as a team. We were able to learn from each other and shared about our own experiences in our countries. Learning from so many different perspectives face-to-face was really unique. We had meals together and enjoyed comparing our countries’ common sayings, fast food restaurants, and currencies.

The team of students and teachers pose for a photo
on their way to the COP23 Conference.

What emerged as the themes of the students' collaborative work?

A: When the student representatives came to Bonn, we had very different, unique ideas for themes of our white paper. Over the ten days we were there, we combined these ideas and narrowed down themes to focus on youth. We tried to really show how youth could have an impact and our voices were important. We also tried to inspire other children around the world to get involved and make a difference.

C: Gold mining and hydraulic fracking emerged as themes between countries. We learned that these two issues occur in multiple countries, which made us realize that this is a big problem that we are all facing. Both of these events cause water contamination, which affects the local communities negatively. As our initiative is also about decolonization, we tried to focus on the indigenous communities and the impact global warming has had on them. Several times, indigenous communities are ignored by government leaders. For example, in the United States, the government wanted to install the Dakota Access Pipeline, but the Standing Rock Sioux tribe did not support the installation of the pipeline. The pipeline would destroy their ancient burial grounds and would risk contaminating the region’s clean water. Even though, one of the Sioux elders started a protest camp and people around the world came to camp alongside the native americans, showing their support, government officials still ignored their voice and installed the pipe anyway. Other student representatives shared that they also had struggles with water shortages and the indigenous communities in their countries have also been ignored.

Did you receive any feedback from adults after your presentation?

A: After my presentation at the 13th annual Conference of the Youth, we had some time to speak with audience members. The audience was composed entirely of adults, and we received lots of feedback about our presentation from them. They were all very impressed with our work and interested in learning more. They had only learned of climate change as adults, so they said that they felt very inspired and pushed to work harder because of our work.

C: After our presentations, both adults and other students, were really supportive of our initiative and were really interested in our work. At the German school, the students had a chance to ask the group questions and then we talked with the students individually. After realizing what a huge impact global warming has on the climate, the students were intrigued to learn more. Together we enjoyed conversation, made some new friendships, and exchanged contacts. The adults who were part of the initiative were supportive of not only their own students, but other countries’ as well. They provided feedback on how to improve our presentations and made sure that we didn’t get separated.

Can you describe your meeting with the Oregon Governor's representative? What did you discuss?

A: While in Bonn, I had the lucky opportunity to meet with Governor Kate Brown of Oregon’s representatives, Ruchi and Chris. I discussed what we were doing and how we got involved. Then, Ruchi explained how she had a law degree, and she gave up her career in law to work in climate change issues and conservation efforts. Her story was so inspiring to me and I am so grateful for her willingness to answer all of our questions and share her own story.

C: We had the opportunity to meet with two of Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s representatives, Ruchi Sadhir, Energy and Climate Change Policy Advisor, and Chris Pair, Director of Communications. Together we each shared about the actions we have been taking towards preventing climate change. My biggest takeaway from our meeting was that youth can make a difference by being present. The representatives suggested that youth show that they care by attending events such as council meetings, press conferences, and climate marches. Even if we don’t speak at an event, our presence shows our commitment and passion towards making a change. This really hit me as a step of action that youth are capable of doing. Often times people want to make a change, but they don’t know how. Showing up is a really achievable way to making an impact.

Can you comment on the uniqueness of this opportunity?

C: Traveling to Bonn as an 8th grader to present a white paper was quite a unique opportunity. This opportunity allowed me to collaborate with other students globally, to meet them in person, to represent my country, and to share my findings with others in a global context. It was exciting to know that our work was presented at COP23, the United Nations Conference of the Parties. This was a truly wonderful experience that will continue to have an impact on me and I will never forget it.

Relevant Links

Taking It Global -

COP23 -

Centre for Global Education -

#Decarbonize/Decolonize Global Youth White Paper -

Global Gallery -

Bullis Charter School -