It has been my privilege to participate as a volunteer at Mandela International Magnet School for the past five years. This semester, Holly Call’s eighth-grade classes have been especially rewarding. I have found her students to be conscientious, inquisitive and creative.
On Sept. 20, I attended the climate strike rally at the Roundhouse where hundreds of students from Santa Fe and nearby communities mingled with adults who attended in a show of support. I recognized a great many Mandela students of all ages. As we walked through the streets near the Capitol, I told a fellow marcher that of all the rallies I’ve attended in Santa Fe, the student “strike” most resembled the anti-war marches of the 1960s and 1970s in enthusiasm and noise.
Around that time, Call introduced a four-week unit for her students entitled Environmental Action. The month began with readings and discussions of prominent writers such as Aldo Leopold and Joy Harjo, the first Native American poet laureate of the United States. Next, each student wrote an essay and then, in groups of two or three, delivered a presentation, TED-talk style, on a topic they each selected related to an environmental issue.
These presentations covered a wide range of topics including bio-plastics, bio-fuels, fracking, methane, deforestation, meat alternatives and the condition of ocean life. One group made their own video; another discussed the influence of money in politics; yet another coordinated an activity based on the chaos theory. At the end of each presentation, the presenters took time for a question-and-answer period with fellow students.
The final element of the unit was a personal reflection. Students were required to write a creative essay on how their knowledge, understanding and attitudes had changed over the four weeks. And they were asked to identify three steps they could take on behalf of saving the planet.
As a published author, I found the essays to be honest and introspective with flashes of brilliance. Most students believed they had benefited from what they learned. Many described talking to their parents about the problems facing the planet and changes their family could make. I would venture to say that Call’s 13-year-old students, as a group, now know more about the environmental threats than many adults.
In spite of the overwhelming bad news, most if not all of the students were encouraged to learn that the problems have identifiable solutions. One girl wrote, “I was starting to lose hope in the world … Throughout the presentations, I began to feel that we have a chance of helping our planet. At the end of the day I feel more hopeful.”
Several weeks after the youth rally, the Santa Fe New Mexican published a reader’s letter (“Actually, the youth climate rally was a flop in Santa Fe,” Letters to the Editor, Oct. 25), which stated that the percentage of Santa Fe students attending the demonstration was low. The letter seemed needlessly negative.
Adults should be happy to collaborate with and support any young person who takes a stand on behalf of themselves, their sisters and brothers, and future generations and the lives of millions around the world, many of whom are even now experiencing crop failures and hunger, poverty, displacement, and disease related to extreme climate changes. Young people locally — and around the world — are crusading for action. We would be wise to listen to them.
Olin Dodson is a long-time resident of Santa Fe and the author of Melissa’s Gift. He volunteers his free time as a creative writing mentor and tutor through the Santa Fe Public Schools.