Skinner Middle School Students Attend ClimateCon!

By Kathryn White

Skinner Middle School eighth-graders attended ClimateCon! Jan. 23 courtesy of an environmental justice grant from the Black Parents United Foundation. Photo courtesy of Kassandra Montoya

Fifteen eighth-graders from Skinner Middle School filed into an auditorium on the CSU Spur Campus bright and early Jan. 23.

And they had done their homework.

They were there to attend the first ever ClimateCon! Colorado conference. By day’s end, over 300 attendees—largely adults from a variety of environmental fields, government agencies and earth-friendly businesses—had attended 30 sessions falling into themes like “reductions,” “removals” and “adaptations.” 

Gov. Jared Polis addressed the crowd early in the day, then music and performers dressed as molecules helped attendees find their way to break-out sessions throughout the Hydro building.

Session topics ran the gamut: Hispanic Americans and Environment Justice, Pollinators and Biodiversity, Federal Grants for Rural Clean Energy, Decarbonizing Buildings and more.

This was not your ordinary field trip. Students submitted applications to their social studies teacher, Kassandra Montoya, in order to attend.

Nickie Wells, environmental justice director at Black Parents United Foundation, made the trip possible through a grant from her organization.  

“I wanted the kids to go to ClimateCon! and feel like they were seen and heard,” Wells said by email after the conference. 

“Of course I wanted them to get an educational experience and step away feeling inspired and encouraged to be a part of the change,” Wells continued. “I never doubted these eighth-graders for a minute. They showed up and showed out and kept the adults on their toes.”

The Denver North Star visited Skinner the week after the conference to hear from the students.  

“It was really inspiring,” one student said. “The government keeps talking about electric cars and adding all these new streets. But in reality, we actually have to fight for climate justice.”

Two students were struck by information showing that the habits of wealthy people generate a disproportionate amount of pollution, yet they aren’t the ones to suffer the greatest health impacts from it.

Several attended a session about women and other underrepresented people working to fight climate change. It didn’t go unnoticed to them that this session had fewer attendees than the others. Another sparsely attended session was on climate education, a topic of keen interest to the group.

“That was really surprising because one of the biggest problems is that not many people truly understand what climate change is,” one student said.

“I was glad that I went to that breakout group,” the student continued, “because I learned a lot about different educational tactics you could use to educate future generations. One of them was about how insects are very important to our climate. They have a very big impact that not many people would realize.”

A couple of students were eager to talk about a local example of regenerative farming that employs something called agrivoltaics. Jack’s Solar Garden is a 24-acre farm in Boulder County where over 3,000 solar arrays have been built on elevated posts and provide partial shade for crops and grazing underneath.

“A common theme across all the panels I went to,” one student said, “was to just speak up, support those ideas that are forming by people who are trying to make the world a better place. If you’re just staying quiet and wanting change to happen, change won’t happen.”

Wells will be back at Skinner in April to continue exploring themes of environmental justice and advocacy with students. And Wells will provide similar opportunities to fifth-graders at Trevista at Horace Mann this spring.

Conference founder and organizer Michael Scanlon said he is planning ClimateCon! for Boulder April 2 and Fort Collins Aug. 27. The conference will return to Denver in January 2025.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.