Engaging the Youth One School at a Time
By POW Riders Alliance Pro Andy Newell
I’ve been involved with Protect Our Winters since 2013 and since then have participated in a number of projects from marching with 400,000 people down the streets of New York City to visiting with Todd Stern and the Special Envoy for Climate change in Washington D.C.. I love getting caught up in the magnitude of these projects and the feeling that our movement is finally reaching the eyes and ears of the general public and political leaders. Despite getting far less attention from the main-steam media I’ve found that one of the ways to make an even bigger impact is through a Hot Planet/Cool Athletes visit with a school.
A HPCA visit is so amazing because it goes hand and hand with the grass roots climate change movement I’m so passionate about by capturing the attention of the youth and introducing them to our cause. These are the kids that can go on to college to pursue studies related to the environment, create more eco-friendly jobs and policy, and will be the ones who will embrace sustainable energy in generations to come.
The visits themselves are super fun and easy, I try to do about three a year with different schools around New England. POW and The North Face have done a great job putting together a video to get the kids amped up and eager to learn with a simple formula. Show the kids some epic skiing and riding footage, show them that we as professional athletes are passionate about fighting climate change, and they get stoked to help out. I find the biggest goal of these visits is to introduce the problems of climate change but more importantly focus on some of the solutions, and the kids leave with a basic understanding of the importance of fossil fuel divestment and the vocabulary and ideas associated with reducing our carbon footprint.
I think it’s a misconception that an athlete needs to be an expert on climate change issues in order to lead these visits. One of the best messages I can convey to the kids is that I’m not an expert on climate change either but that I want to learn and grow as a person and make smarter decisions so we come up with questions and answers together as a group. I like to encourage the kids to brainstorm some of the ways they can conserve energy and the importance of having their voices heard through what goods they purchase and the actions they take.
I have had fun, successful visits with individual classrooms as small as 25 students or presenting to an entire school with over 500 kids. For me, all visits are memorable and worthwhile because I can see the kids transform and become more engaged as they begin to think more logically and critically about the environment.
This spring, while visiting with the Tuttle Middle School in South Burlington, the power of these visits became crystal clear to me. After completing the 45-minute HPCA presentation and answering questions from the kids, several students came up on stage to present their own ideas. The afterschool ‘green team’ explained to their classmates some of the ways they are working to reduce energy consumption in their school and community and I could instantly see that instead of it being just another assignment coming from a teacher, suddenly it was a cool revolution everyone in the entire school wanted to be involved in.
At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about, the ripple effect of these school visits; Athletes teaching students, students teaching their peers, and everyone getting stoked to take their efforts to fight climate change to the next level.
To learn more about Hot Planet/Cool Athletes and how you can host an assembly or receive a free DVD, visit: www.hotplanetcoolathletes.com.