Caitlin O'Hara, Senior Photographer

Five local high school students are pushing to get New Haven Public Schools on track with changes promised in the Board of Education’s Climate Emergency Resolution. 

The New Haven Climate Movement launched a new project in January called the Youth Climate Action Team, consisting of five interns who are current students at Engineering and Science University Magnet School and Wilbur Cross High School. YCAT seeks to promote dialogue between students and the New Haven Board of Education on implementing reforms relating to food waste, transportation and climate education in local public schools.

“This internship is a great opportunity to work with local policy makers, teachers and students to build the needed awareness and momentum for climate action so that we can create real change,” said Rosie Hampson, one of the YCAT interns from Wilbur Cross.

As a part of the program, interns have created three pilot projects addressing topics outlined in the Board of Education Climate Emergency Resolution, which was passed by the city’s Board of Alders in Sept. 2022. The projects aim to increase climate education, limit food waste in schools and reduce carbon emissions from transportation.

YCAT coordinator and Wilbur Cross senior Young In Kim explained that the Board of Education has not yet addressed many of the efforts outlined in the Climate Emergency Resolution. The resolution includes a timeline of six months for the board to implement plans for the majority of proposed changes. With the six month deadline to begin work on these changes rapidly approaching, YCAT interns are seeking not only to help students lead these educational reforms, but also to place pressure on school administrators to take action.

“We really hope this internship is a valuable resource for the Board [of Education] to start making those changes, and to put it bluntly, to stop procrastinating on these changes,” said Kim.

One of the three pilot projects involves incorporating climate change education into the English curriculum at ESUMS’ middle school. Leah Mock and Tenzin Youdon, the YCAT interns heading this project, discussed their plans to introduce relevant texts. They included works such as “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” and “Parable of the Sower” as texts that cover themes of climate change and social inequity. The project also seeks to incorporate hands-on engagement with climate change through projects including multimedia presentations and student-led assemblies. 

In an interview with the News, Mock emphasized the role of student leadership with regard to the climate crisis. 

“You can tell students ‘here’s a whole lesson and here’s a whole project,’ but unless they feel like they can make a real impact, I don’t think it’s going to stick with them as much,” she said.

The second project seeks to create a composting program at Wilbur Cross High School to reduce the negative impact of food waste. Working alongside the student-run Wilbur Cross Environmental Club and a local composting service called Peels and Wheels, YCAT intern Lila Kleppner hopes to help the school transition to composting food scraps and other biodegradable waste. 

Kleppner also seeks to increase awareness about composting by providing informational sessions for fellow students. She said these sessions would elaborate on the importance of composting and outline the steps involved in the composting process.

“Compost education doesn’t stop in school,” Kleppner said. “It’s going to continue and be useful throughout life.”

On their website, Peels and Wheels estimates New Haven households produce 200 tons of food scraps per week. The city, according to Peels and Wheels, pays $85 per ton of trash to be hauled and incinerated in Bridgeport and Hartford facilities.

The final pilot project directly addresses the role of transportation and pollution. In an effort to mitigate the harmful effects of fossil fuels, interns Rosie Hampson and Manxi Han hope to gather data through a district survey on how NHPS students are getting to and from school. This information would allow them to understand how students make their transportation choices, and, consequently, motivate students to choose greener transportation options.

Hampson and Han said they are also hoping to bring transportation education to Wilbur Cross. Through this education program, they plan to emphasize the significance of public transit as well as teach students how to take the city bus and offer strategies on how to bike safely within New Haven.

“Creating real change is much easier and more impactful when all of New Haven understands why these changes are taking place and are sincerely interested in what is being done,” said Han.

The YCAT program is run through the Climate Education Committee branch of the NHCM.

Natasha Khazzam covers housing and homelessness for city desk. She previously covered climate and the environment. Originally from Great Neck, New York, she is a sophomore in Davenport College majoring in history and English.