At the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences in Good Will-Hinckley, we challenge our students every day to learn from their experiences. Whether they are in the greenhouse, the classroom or the fields, we encourage them to look at their work with a critical eye and then follow the science in order to achieve the best possible results. When it comes to climate change, they are setting an example everyone, including policymakers, can learn from.
They are sustainably growing lettuce, herbs and other crops in our greenhouses, thanks in part to a new aquaponics system, which uses fish waste instead of chemicals for fertilizer. They will be interning this fall with organic farmers, in our own kitchen and at Revision Energy, the company that installed 122 solar panels on the roof of our administration building, reducing our carbon footprint and saving us several thousand dollars in energy costs over the next decade. They are learning about the environmental and nutritional benefits of producing, cooking and distributing local food, which we eat in our own cafeteria and donate to a local food pantry. We have also built raised beds and planted fruit trees and bushes at an area homeless shelter.
Our students understand changes in the climate in recent decades have affected natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans. They understand climate change has helped disease-carrying ticks abound in areas like mid-Maine, where they were rarely seen before. Having attended the Camden Conference on climate change this past winter, several have become keenly interested in not only what this means for food insecurity and poverty around the globe but also what the already apparent effects of rising temperatures in the Northeast will mean for their futures.
While several of our ecology- and agriculture-oriented students are getting their hands dirty to understand the scientific effects of climate change locally, others are interested in the public policy challenges and solutions that can address climate change. The students were happy to hear about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recent proposal to help states cut carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. They will also learn about the economics of energy solutions in Maine, such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a regional cap and trade system that aims to reduce emissions significantly.
At the core of the educational model at the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences is the belief that, through hands-on learning and the application of knowledge to real-world problems, students at risk of not succeeding in school can not only take charge of their own lives but contribute to their communities, the state and the world. We expose students to economic, scientific and cultural issues through a local lens, allowing them to act on a personal level to truly engage with the complex world in which we live. Ours are resilient, motivated, engaged teenagers who are doing their part. They would like others to take whatever steps, even small steps, they can and join them in reducing carbon output in their own day-to-day lives.
It is critical we continue to urge policymakers to go further, to listen to the science and even get their hands dirty. Make some tough decisions. By following the lead of our young people who are concerned about the shape of the world we are leaving them, we can move together as a school, a community, a state and a nation to counteract the negative effects of climate change.
Emanuel Pariser is director of curriculum at Good Will-Hinckley’s Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, a charter high school located in Hinckley. Troy Frost is the school’s principal.