Felipe Hernandez still remembers the shocked look on students’ faces in Costa Rica when they were shown a video of a sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nose. As the leader of their Rustic Pathways’ program, he says such moments help students realize the reality of our world’s environmental problems.
After that presentation, the students created a petition to speak out against the practice of single-use plastic. It is just one of many moments over the years when Rustic students have embraced efforts to improve the planet.
“I’m super proud when we receive emails from parents saying, ‘I don’t know what you did to my kid, but she is now taking two minute showers to save water,’” Hernandez said. “It’s small details like that which make me feel positive… If everyone did small things, it would be a huge benefit for the world.”
Fostering such passion is one of the main goals of a special online program being launched this July in a collaboration between the Stanford University Deliberative Democracy Lab and the Rustic Pathways Foundation. The Global Youth Climate Summit will challenge students in 7th-12th grade to design innovative solutions to environmental issues.
It will be led by Dr. Alice Siu, who is the associate director of the Stanford Center. She will spearhead the program from July 12-23. The summit will include a mix of entertaining and academically rigorous live sessions, along with asynchronous group and individual work.
“The diverse group of students participating will have had different experiences with the environment and dealing with climate change,” Siu said. “We’ll come together to understand how policies affect different people.”
Through discussions among themselves and with experts from the global Rustic community, students will identify challenges and brainstorm ideas on how to address problems. They’ll then build a prototype impact project.
“We try to get them to put a mirror up and say, ‘This is me and this is what I can do to face climate change and be better prepared to address this situation,’” Hernandez said.
They’ll earn a 15-hour Community Impact Certificate for their work with international partners. Participants also will receive a Certificate of Completion, along with information that can lay the groundwork for future projects. Most importantly, students will learn how to engage with people who have different opinions.
“We should recognize that with social media young people see what they want to see because of algorithms. That can be dangerous,” Siu said. “Not everyone thinks like us. When we are able to recognize that, we open ourselves to others who don’t have the same views…. Then we can really start to work together.”
The collaboration will be particularly helpful for students who may want to try future international programs. The summit will be the first in a series of Leadership Lab enrichment programs. These will include other design challenges that will help students work across borders.
In addition, the programs can open the door to future travel where teens may meet some of the people they have been working with online. Hernandez says he hopes these programs will create a strong group of changemakers who will help restore what has been lost.
“Personally every time I read an article or watch a documentary about conservation or climate change… I’m disappointed to see what humankind has become and what we have done to this planet,” Hernandez said. “But when I work with young people, their passion and energy is contagious. They give me hope that if I can create a team of these young people, things are going to be better. And for that I’m super grateful.”