Hiking the East Sandwich Game Farm
The East Sandwich Game Farm offers access to hundreds of acres of conservation land, plus two cool footbridges and much, much more!
Eric Williams, Cape Cod Times
SANDWICH — Students from across the Cape swapped the classroom in favor of Sandwich Town Hall Wednesday to voice concerns about the environment at “Climate Change Action Summit.”
The forum, which centered around environmental justice, included a policymaking workshop, where students were required to present arguments for and against a fictitious bylaw, which would turn Route 6A into a canal to accommodate future sea-level rise.
Before ascending to the podium one-by-one to give statements to a five-member mock select board, students broke into groups, huddled together, and strategized their public comments.
Cape Codders, in 100 years, could be having this argument, said Ella Sampou, communication director for Youth Climate Action Network. A facilitator at the summit, Sampou said the purpose of the exercise was to teach students how local government works.
“Participating in local government is a useful tool for climate activists to utilize when making change,” Sampou said. “Advocating for our ecosystems is super important.”
The policy-making workshop was part of the second annual summit, organized by Cape youth climate leaders and the Massachusetts Audubon Society. Groups of teens from as far away as Plymouth participated to help develop actions in response to climate-related Cape challenges.
Student participation brings confidence
Throughout the fictional select board meeting, students spoke about the cause and effects of sea-level rise and addressed challenges and solutions to climate change issues such as erosion, wastewater and plastic pollution. Students also brought up issues surrounding social justice and access to transportation.
John Bresett, 16, a student at Sturgis Charter Public School in Hyannis, argued against the creation of a canal in place of Route 6A, and said speaking in front of the fictional select board gave him confidence to attend an actual town meeting. One of his strongest hesitations to go to a town meeting is a feeling of intimidation, he said.
“It’s challenging to understand the process and knowing how to speak to a certain point,” Bresett said. “Practicing was beneficial and after I sat down, I believed I could go to a town meeting and speak about something I believe in.”
Julia Abercrombie, 17, also a student at Sturgis, said the summit’s local policy workshop prepared her to use her voice in the future but also showed her there is power in numbers.
“We empowered each other and helped each other decide what to say. The decision-making process was important and inspiring,” she said.
Abercrombie has also been a student climate ambassador with the Cape Cod Commission and said that experience also influenced her decision to become a climate change activist.
“I can’t vote yet but preparing us to advocate and use our voice in the future is very important,” she said.
Cape adults embrace youth resilience
John Russell, of Barnstable, volunteered to appear on the summit’s mock select board and said he hopes the policy-making workshop can help students realize there are opportunities in the real world where they can share their voices and create pathways to make change.
“Our discussion today isn’t supposed to be a real issue, but more a good exercise in showing them how to get involved and how they can make a difference in a real setting,” he said. “It’s pretty powerful that they want to be here.”
Often, Sampou said, high school and college curriculums don’t include education about local governments, which means many young people aren’t helping make decisions that most tangibly affects their lives. Decision makers tend to be elder community members, she said. While their life experience and wisdom are valued, she said, everyone should have a seat at the table.
“We want these kids to make decisions about Cape Cod and build resilience in our communities,” she said. “We want them to have a voice.”
Barnstable Town Councilor Kris Clark was also on hand as a mock select board member for the summit, and said she remembers going to her first town meeting when she was a teenager. She said she was nervous when speaking at a conservation commission meeting when she was in high school and realized afterward that she didn’t complete her thoughts during the meeting.
“This is a good training to understand and get beyond yourself to get the message out,” Clark said. “This is a good way to harden off and get some exposure to public speaking.”
Student participation proves its worth in Barnstable
Gordon Starr, a Barnstable Town Council member, participated on the summit’s mock select board. In November 2020, he said, a group of students helped sway Barnstable Town Council to pass a Climate Emergency Resolution, which Starr sponsored.
“We’ve seen this work in real-time,” said Starr. “When the young people showed up to push the resolution, their input was emotional and made a difference to the town councilors listening.”
“I’m very interested in the power of young voices, in their reaction and attempt to mitigate climate change,” he said. “Their voices are more powerful than they’ve ever been before on these issues.”
Tian Ya Liu, 16, a student at Cape Cod Academy in Osterville, said she enjoyed the formal process of the mock select board meeting.
“The purpose of this was for people to challenge themselves in public speaking,” she said. “And to have students get into a concept of how their ideas can affect the general public and make a difference in policy.”