Energized pockets of students and faculty in the Santa Clara Unified School District joined millions of others on Sept. 20 in youth-led climate strikes that spanned the globe from Sweden to San Francisco, San Jose and Santa Clara.
At Marian A. Peterson Middle School, the 11 students in the Environmental Leadership class took advantage of a normally-scheduled 15-minute morning break to lead an outdoor campus rally. They held up posters with slogans and led chants.
“No more coal. No more oil. No more carbon in the soil!” chanted the assembled crowd.
“Waters rise. Hear our cries. No more lies for business ties!”
“Switch to Lean! Switch to Green! We want all our sources clean!”
The students circulated petitions, demanding that government leaders address climate change. Once they finish gathering signatures, the students will send the petitions to such California officials as Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor, U.S. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren and Governor Gavin Newsom.
After the rally, the middle school students were hyped up to maintain the focus on climate change issues beyond a one-day, awareness-raising event.
“I didn’t think it would actually work — getting people — I think there were a few hundred — to listen to us,” said 8th grader Neha, a member of the Environmental Leadership class. “We got a good turnout. I think we should continue doing this so people don’t forget about it.”
“Everybody does care,” said Peterson Environmental Leadership class teacher Steven Sanders. “We gave them a forum to engage.”
Many students spoke up at the class debriefing.
“We hope this opens eyes about this important issue,” said one young man. “I guess we did that today. If everyone thinks they’re powerless, then nothing will happen.”
“One is many,” said another student. “People need to realize they can make a change.”
“We’re really hyped up. We’re excited,” said a different student. “We’re spending our class time for the planet.”
“It all began with learning about Greta,” said another.
Greta Thunberg is the 16-year-old Swedish girl who skipped school for three weeks last year to demonstrate outside the Swedish parliament. She wanted to draw government attention to the need to take stronger action regarding the climate crisis.
The United Nations calls climate change the leading world issue and wants countries to take realistic steps to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The Sept. 20 Global Youth Climate Strike Thunberg inspired was timed to precede a Youth Climate Summit Sept. 21 and the one-day, U.N. Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit Sept. 23 at U.N. headquarters in New York.
“I am proud when our students show an interest in participating in their democracy, especially at such a young age,” said Peterson Principal Chandra Henry. “While we don’t encourage students to walk out or strike from their educational day, Peterson has highly qualified teachers who seize the learning opportunity when students express interest in organizing a free-speech activity.
“Our staff works with our students to ensure that they are accomplishing their goals and organizing their activities in ways that are safe and productive,” continued Henry.
At Adrian Wilcox High School, students in Sanders’s AP Environmental Science classes, also with the support of administration and faculty, organized “mock” walkouts, gave prepared speeches about climate change and led chants.
“Today’s rallies underscored the importance of this youth movement… Children and adults came together for a common cause, and it was beautiful,” said Sanders.
“Our school district has decided to make environmental education a top priority and that commitment was demonstrated by them by allowing us to stage our own climate strikes on both Peterson Middle School and Wilcox High School campuses,” he said.
“My students reported that they felt empowered by the experience and that was the whole point. It gave me great pride, knowing that we were participating in this global action.”
“It’s crazy. At first [supporting the Global Youth Climate Strike] was just small talk. We were playing around with ideas,” said a Peterson student. “Then we said, ‘Let’s do it!’ And we did.”