In the fight against climate change, young Alachua County residents are on the frontlines, focused on defending their future.
Gainesville K-12 student programs and clubs across Alachua County Public Schools are leading initiatives to teach young people about the importance of preserving the environment.
Around 70% of people ages 16 to 25 are extremely or very worried about climate change, according to the World Economic Forum. This age group was the most worried about climate change out of all those surveyed.
Students like Morgan Smith, an 18-year-old Buchholz High School senior, wanted to educate her peers about sustainability and ways to reduce the impacts of climate change and formed Earth Club last year. The club now has over 70 members.
“We noticed that there was a lack of awareness within our school community, and we just wanted to spread awareness about the environment within Buchholz,” Smith said.
The club organizes and participates in community cleanups and events, such as creating DIY recycled terrariums to encourage students to be more environmentally friendly. These initiatives have created a positive impact on her community, said Ashley Arthur, a 17-year-old BHS senior.
“We’re able to get hands on at the school and … keep our own school clean, and then, further that out to keeping our actual community clean,” she said.
Most members like Adalyn Kippers, a 17-year-old BHS senior, realized their awareness and passion for preserving the environment through education.
Growing up in North Central Florida, Kippers said she spent time enjoying Florida’s diverse network of beaches and freshwater springs.
“Seeing them very littered and not super taken care of made me realize that there’s a lot of problems,” Kippers said. “Not only in our community, but globally.”
Jake Stalvey, an 18-year-old BHS senior, realizes the impact his generation can have on educating previous generations on environmental issues.
Climate change directly impacts younger generations, he said.
“I think it’s more of a learning curve for the older generations,” Stalvey said.
Most club members, like Chiemela Onwuchekwa, a 16-year-old BHS junior, worry about the global impacts of climate change — such as Venice, Italy, sinking — and how it could impact their futures.
“There are places that are actively suffering on a daily basis,” he said. “Although in Gainesville, we’re not seeing a huge impact like in Venice, it’s still a very present issue.”
Similar to Buchholz, Gainesville High School’s Student Government Association students have implemented several sustainability initiatives over the years. This past year, the organization created a pop-up thrift shop to promote buying less fast fashion.
Celeste Flory, Colleen Anderson and Gerald Phillips — all 17-year-old GHS SGA members — are just a few of the students who have led the school’s movement to live more environmentally conscious.
“We're not the first kids to want to make an effort on this,” Anderson said. “Hopefully we won't be the last.”
Flory, one of the students behind SGA’s sustainable movements, worked on creating more opportunities for her school to recycle by decorating recycling bins and encouraging every classroom to recycle.
Besides sustainability projects, GHS SGA students believe it’s important for their peers to understand environmental issues and take action against them.
“It's time for younger generations to expand our knowledge and try to help out whenever we can,” Phillips said.
Outside of schools in West Gainesville, NKwanda Jah, executive director of the Cultural Arts Coalition, implements hands-on opportunities through summer programs for East Gainesville students to learn about the natural environment and how to conserve it for the past 33 years.
The Environmental Ambassadors’ five-week summer program teaches youth ages 8 to 20 ways to preserve the environment. Jah’s program specifically focuses on youth of color in East Gainesville, she said.
“We definitely need to have more people of color learning,” Jah said.
The coalition created science clubs at elementary schools in East Gainesville for the past 10 years to promote higher test scores, after noticing the schools were lacking compared to others in the county, Jah said.
The coalition also transformed a bus that takes science activities to different communities.
“Sometimes, we have to really get stern about getting the kids to get off the bus because they’re enjoying themselves so much,” Jah said.
Contact Claire at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @grunewaldclaire.
Claire Grunewald is a fourth-year journalism major and the Spring 2024 Editor In Chief of The Alligator. In her free time, she likes to go to concerts and attempt to meet her Goodreads reading goal.