17-year-old Neha Sarwal is ready to put her new-found knowledge about the environment to good use this school year. She plans to expand a composting program she re-launched at Friends Academy in Locust Valley, New York this past spring. Sarwal worked on the project while participating in a Climate Leaders Fellowship program that drew students from around the world.
The fellowship challenged students like Sarwal to design a project customized to their community’s needs and then join in online sessions with other participants to share ideas. The fellowship was offered free of charge by the Rustic Pathways Foundation and the Stanford University Deliberative Democracy Lab. Sarwal said it was a fantastic learning experience.
“I’ve never done anything like this before, and it helped me a lot with my leadership skills and initiative,” Sarwal said.
The composting program she organized is designed for K-5 students and was initially started before the pandemic halted it. Sarwal restarted the program with the help of her teachers. She taught the students about the benefits of composting and came into their classrooms every Friday to collect the bins they used to deposit their fruit and vegetables.
“When I walked into the room they were so happy,” Sarwal said.
She says the students now want to see what she does when she takes the compost outside. When she has enough, she puts it in a school garden. This coming school year she hopes to increase the collections to twice a week to have more compost for the garden.
Before she started the effort she says she didn’t know what a compost system was. She learned about waste management during the fellowship program, which included 94 students from countries ranging from Malaysia and the United Kingdom to the Dominican Republic and the United States.
Sarwal heard about the program after participating in a Hawaii Service program with Rustic Pathways in the summer of 2021. During her travels in Hawaii, she did environmental service removing invasive species. Many months later after completing the fellowship, Sarwal continued her environmental lessons by traveling to Costa Rica for Rustic Pathways’ Turtle Conservation Project.
“I really love turtles…I wanted to clean the hatchery, do things for the turtles, and release them on the beach,” Sarwal said.
Now with all those lessons under her belt, Sarwal is heading into her senior year with new confidence. She is ready to inspire another round of elementary students and find some helpers to keep the composting program going for years to come.
While she is doing that, another round of the fellowship program will be getting underway for another group of high schoolers. The fall session will run from October 10 to December 9, 2022. The application deadline is September 25. For more information, please visit the Climate Fellowship program webpage.