Students from the Dutchess BOCES Career and Technical Institute participated in an international youth empowerment and sustainability summit (YESS!) February 6-8 at the Ashokan Center in Ulster County.
The YESS! Summit, sponsored by youngvoicesfortheplanent.com, Woodstock Day School and the Ashokan Center, featured youth activists, a United Nations advisor, environmental experts, and an Ivy League professor.
“This experience was way outside of the comfort zone of my students,” said CTI teacher Shawn Prater-Lee. “It was a subject matter with which they don't regularly interact and in a setting that challenged them in many ways. They produced an action plan to undertake on their return to school. I'm proud of them.”
The summit was designed to encourage and empower young people to change their lives and their communities by working toward climate resilience. Middle school through college age students, some from Sweden and England, were taught how to develop solutions-based thinking and civic engagement skills.
The students’ plan is to initiate a full review of recycling efforts at CTI and then to design a plan of action to improve upon efforts that are already underway.
“In the course of a typical school day in most of our students’ lives, they interact with people and in places that are familiar and somewhat routine,” said BOCES Deputy Superintendent Cora Stempel. “This event afforded our students the opportunity to spend three days with students from more than a dozen schools. They heard from internationally recognized climate change experts, one of whom spoke to them directly from the Vatican, and from other high school students who are already activists making a difference in their communities.”
Economist Dr. Jeffery Sachs, an advisor to the United Nations and a professor at Columbia University, joined the YESS! Summit via Skype from the Vatican. He and other top world economists were at the Vatican for a conference. The discussions supported the ideas that it is proper to put the planet first and people first when planning the future.
For student Breelyn Miles, the experience was much more than she expected. Initially, she decided to attend to enjoy a trip.
“Once there, I learned a lot about climate change and what needs to be done to reverse its effects,” said Miles. “I got to talk to people I would have never had met otherwise, even some girls from England and Hudson. I'm excited to be back and I’m looking forward to working on our project.”
Organizers combined rich learning opportunities and social gatherings, including square dancing, art and performances. “This made for an unforgettable three days that I’m sure our students will remember for years to come,” said Stempel.