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Students Inspired in Climate Change Partnership Program

Initial Climate Change Academy convenes in Alaska National Parks

Washington, D.C. – Youth from an Ohio high school spent 12 days in Alaska this summer, hiking and watching wildlife and learning about our changing climate. Their experience was part of the first “Climate Change Academy,” an immersive, comprehensive climate change course.

"I am glad that I came to Alaska and learned about the harmful effects of climate change for myself,” said Sydney Young, a sophomore at West Geauga High School in Chesterland, Ohio. “I have the knowledge to define my own opinion. I feel comfortable and confident in my ability to make a change."

The Academy is a partnership between the National Park Service Climate Change Response Program and the non-profit No Barriers Youth. “This is a model for experiential learning,” said Ray Sauvajot, acting associate director for natural resource stewardship and science in the National Park Service. The partnership began with the successful Night Skies program, which led to the development of the more intensive immersion program. No Barriers Youth solicited applications for the “Climate Change Academy” from middle and high schools across the nation. After several rounds of review, Mike Sustin, Chemistry and Environmental Science teacher from West Geauga High School was selected as a group leader and 10 students were selected to participate in the academy.

Sydney and her fellow students, ages 14 to 18, spent time in Kenai Fjords and Denali national parks following a pre-trip curriculum. The students dedicated time over weekends and summer days to complete the five sessions of extra-curricular lessons in preparation for the trip. 

In Alaska, the group hiked the Harding Icefield Trail in Kenai Fjords National Park with park rangers Luke Rosier and Jenna Giddens. They were sworn in as Junior Rangers and took a full-day wildlife and glacier boat tour of the fjords with John Morris, interpretive program manager for the National Park Service’s Alaska Region.

Ricky Greene, a high school senior on the trip, said, “Every animal we saw on the cruise to Holgate Glacier became a story with a ton of interesting facts. The most amazing thing John told us was the idea of 'The Dancing Spheres' that described the relationships between the atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, cryosphere, biosphere and even the heliosphere. It gave me a whole new way to look at the way global warming affects us. Now I can explain it better to people who don't understand.”

In Denali National Park, students participated in a climate change scenario planning activity with Alaska Region Science Advisor Bob Winfree. On their last day in the park the group overcame personal challenges by hiking a strenuous Cathedral Mountain route with Dave Schirokauer, physical and social science program manager in Denali.

Now back in Ohio, the students are developing a project to share their discoveries with their community. Additionally, each student will enter the first No Barriers Youth Climate Change Art Contest, also sponsored by the NPS Climate Change Response Program, in which anyone ages 12-21 can submit an artistic entry responding to: “When thinking about climate change, what is your hope for the future?” The aim of the contest is to inspire conversation around the subject and to encourage youth to approach it from multiple disciplines and value the intersection of arts and sciences.

To learn more about the contest, see http://globalexplorers.org/climate-change/.

The National Park Service and No Barriers Youth work together to promote awareness and action on climate change. The National Park Service Climate Change Response Program and No Barriers Youth partnership is a commitment to provide climate change learning opportunities for youth and educators nationwide.

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