By Northeast YES! Coordinator Jim DeVries
On October 14, 2015, the second annual Northeastern Minnesota YES Fall Summit was held at the Laurentian Environmental Center in Britt, MN. This year we had 6 teams from around our region in attendance. There were 65 students and 11 coaches and/or supporting staff who made the trek to learn how they can make an impact on the energy future in their communities.
The day started with an activity where students designed a wind turbine out of household materials to see how many washers in a cup they could lift off the table using only the power of the wind. Two students achieved the record of 71 washers and were sure with more time they could have achieved even more.
We were all excited for the keynote presentation by Jenna Totz of Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy. Jenna talked about the trends of the warming climate and backed up each statement with facts gathered by scientists from around the world. During the presentation she asked the students to text a response to this question. What do you value most about your community? This was then compiled into the Word Cloud seen at right.
After the keynote students went to one of three workshops designed to inspire them to take action with their YES! teams this year. One of the workshops was “Telling your Climate Story” led by Jenna Totz. During this session Jenna noted, “We saw students making connections between climate change and activities like softball, snowmobiling, and fishing. Several YES! students used very descriptive language and emotion to explain how climate change is affecting their lives.”
A second workshop focused on local foods. This was led by local foods expert Wayne Wilberg. Wayne explained why buying local is important for the climate as well as for the local economy. Wayne also talked about gardens and how each team could incorporate gardens into their schools to provide fresh produce for school lunches. Everyone enjoyed the edible treats harvested locally which added a second dimension to the workshop.
Our third workshop of the day was on energy conservation presented by energy expert Bill Mittlefehldt of the NE Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs). Bill talked with the students about simple ways energy can be conserved in a school building, community and at home. He also shared how the city of Duluth is in a national competition run by Georgetown University to see who can reduce their energy dependence by the greatest amount in two years. The winning city will receive a $5 million prize for their efforts. Bill believes that the YES! teams can be catalysts in mobilizing other youth to consider smarter energy choices.
After the workshops time was devoted to team planning. Each team is encouraged to complete a quick-start project to offer a quick turn around on their efforts and bring the YES! team to the forefront of the school. We also encouraged them to work on a bigger, long-term project that will show even greater returns on their time and energy. Some teams had to depart before the end of the workshop, but those that spent the time were excited to jump into the projects.
One great idea that came up was planting an edible landscape around the school so students could grab an apple or carrot on their way to school in the morning as they walked into the building. Side benefits of having the apple trees on the south side of the school would be the cooling effect offered in the summer to reduce the cooling costs.
I am always amazed at the enthusiasm of the students when they are empowered to make a change in their schools. Their ideas are limitless and their dedication to the earth is even greater. It makes me proud to be able to work with the students in NE MN as we embark on some life changing experiences together.