Founded by the Santa Cruz County Office of Education in Fall of 2019, YEA was formed to increase and connect youth and community efforts focused on environmental sustainability and implementation of local solutions. YEA supports students in developing the skills and plans to bridge the gap between adult decision makers and youth, to work together toward common goals and environmental and climate action plans. The 2022-23 action team includes some 30 students from 11 local high schools in collaborative leadership and support roles.
“My school and parents have taught me to respect the environment and do my part to keep our earth happy and healthy,” said Mariah Cohen. “Working with YEA, I am excited to meet other people my age who care about the environment as much as I do.
“As the co-president of Mount Madonna’s Environmental Justice Club, I want to use my position to educate people at my school about how they can help the environment easily and effectively, and will enlist their support for projects that complement the YEA effort,” Cohen continued. “I am most excited to work on composting and waste management with the YEA team because I have seen the effects of these issues on the planet and on animals, including humans, and I would love to be a part of the solution.”
“These students have committed to working together for the school year on projects that will increase environmental sustainability in schools and in our communities,” commented Amity Sandage, environmental literacy coordinator for the Santa Cruz County Office of Education. “This team represents high schools across the county, and these students will plan and lead Santa Cruz County’s annual Environmental Action Summit that brings together community leaders, educators and students to find solutions to the environmental issues our community faces.”
The priorities identified by the 2022-23 YEA leadership team are: school food systems that minimize environmental and climate impacts; effective school recycling and waste management; and reducing ocean pollution.
“Realizing that they are a small group, the YEA team has decided to first conduct a survey of students across the county to determine the concerns of county youth,” said Sandage. “They are working on that survey and plan to administer it this fall. They will share the data with adult decision makers and then hope to work together to conduct environmental audits of local high school campuses.”
Mount Madonna School science teacher Nicole Silva Culbertson is the faculty advisor of the Environmental Justice Club and she lauded Cohen’s commitment to environmental activism.
“We are fortunate to have Mariah named as one of the student leaders of the Youth for Environmental Action team as she is a dedicated and conscientious student who leads by example,” commented Silva Culbertson. “Mariah teaches others about the value of reducing our footprint, how to recycle properly when necessary and is instrumental in creating our campus composting program. She creates presentations and delivers them to the whole-school community and is a positive role model for those in our school as well as the broader community.”
The Environmental Action Summit will take place in spring 2023; a specific date has not yet been set. Among the topics addressed by previous YEA teams are environmental justice and equitable access to environmental education programs and public nature and park spaces.
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Nestled among the redwoods on 355 acres, Mount Madonna School (MMS) is a diverse learning community dedicated to creative, intellectual, and ethical growth. MMS supports its students in becoming caring, self-aware, discerning and articulate individuals; and believe a fulfilling life includes personal accomplishments, meaningful relationships and service to society. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville. Founded in 1979.