Students at Charles R. Drew High School in Clayton County, Georgia are tackling environmental justice, climate, and clean energy in Mr. Chong’s third period physics class.Cary Ritzler | April 25, 2023
Residents in Clayton County, Georgia are no strangers to environmental action. In 2022, the Clayton County school district successfully applied for the first round of EPA Clean School Bus Program funding, and will be putting 25 fully electric school buses on routes in upcoming years. Following that announcement, the school district began working with an Atlanta-based non-profit to bring environmental justice and clean energy issues to classrooms so that students could learn more about the issues and take action.
The students had already discussed and chosen projects to make an impact on an environmental issue that concerned them as part of Captain Planet Foundation’s Green Heart Challenge. Students selected scalable solutions that could be implemented in their school community and beyond. However, in order for the students’ plans to be as successful as possible, Mr. Chong wanted his students to think about the bigger picture and establish a vision for their school community once the problems they identified were addressed.
This was the perfect opportunity for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy to share the Clean Energy Generation Community Visions project, with the help of SACE member Rhudine Steele, who lives in the community and was excited to connect with students who shared her drive for environmental stewardship and clean energy transition.
Students started by identifying environmental justice needs in their community in a robust and nuanced group conversation. Concerns expressed included litter, air, and water pollution, as well as the environmental impacts of development, including high-priced housing and gentrification and wetlands near their school that are being drained for new development, displacing Canada Geese in the process. Then, they discussed solutions to these problems, including raising awareness and increasing democracy, electrification, conserving land and wetlands, renewable energy sources, and jobs and economic activity. They recognized that these solutions could bring the risk of gentrification to their community, and considered how to maintain their sense of community while welcoming to it a clean economy.
They wrapped up the discussion by talking in their groups to answer three questions:
- What’s already great about your community?
- What’s already awesome about your school?
- What’s one thing you hope for the future?
The students produced a word cloud that helps to frame their collective vision for their community to thrive in a clean energy economy.
Finally, the students worked together in their groups to create vision boards. The goal of the activity was to help them envision what their community could look like when everyone could reap the benefits of clean energy: clean air and water, power bills they can afford, clean transportation options, and good jobs in clean industries. Students were creative and insightful.
These students were brave enough to share their vision with their peers, their teacher, classroom visitors, and all who are reading this blog! Not only that, they are already turning their visions into reality by taking action in their community. For example, groups of students are planning to:
- Educate their classmates on tailpipe emissions from gas powered vehicles and share tips to reduce wasted fuel and exhaust in the parking lot
- Plant and share produce from a community garden
- Research a policy proposal to stop deforestation associated with new development
- Propose recycling programs in the local elementary schools
The future is in their hands, but not theirs alone! We all have a role in the Clean Energy Generation, whether we grew up switching channels on a black and white TV, turning an antenna to get a clear signal, or streaming shows on Netflix.
Are you game to follow these brave students’ example and work with your friends, neighbors, coworkers, or families to establish a shared vision of a clean energy reality where you live and an attainable goal for your group to start with?
SACE staff will be working with people just like you all around the region who are looking to take an active role in planning for a clean energy transition that will bring benefits like clean air and water, good jobs, comfortable and healthy homes, and hope for a prosperous future in our communities.
We are in a historic moment where we have unprecedented resources to transform our communities, and an urgent need to get started. Sign up to join the Clean Energy Generation and learn more about how we are bringing people together!