By Kayla Liu
A passion of mine has always been environmental activism and sustainability. As a high school student, there was never the urgency that I felt about the danger of our climate reciprocated in my family and community. Which is why being a part of YEA (Youth for Environmental Action) has been an incredible opportunity where students like myself have been able to come together to bring the right kind of action needed to bring climate justice to our community, both small and large. Last month, on Earth Day, we at YEA hosted an environmental summit with over 160 students across Santa Cruz County, all coming together with a common passion for climate justice. We are a student-led club through the Santa Cruz County Office of Education focused on connecting students and student voices to bring environmental action to our local community.
Our hope with the summit was to allow a place where students can speak up and come together. Oftentimes, student voices are not taken seriously but the purpose of the summit was to bring together and strengthen our voice as students as well as leaders. “The summit was a wonderful opportunity to bring students and community members from around the county together with the shared purpose of bolstering environmental awareness and sustainability efforts. We were so grateful for everyone that showed up for the future of our environment. I left the event feeling even more inspired by the power of community connection and collaboration,” says Carolyn Randolph, one of YEA’s founding student members. With this in mind, we agreed that our theme for the summit of ‘Connecting Our Community for Environmental Justice & Action’ was more than appropriate.
We had speakers come in of all ages, backgrounds and fields of expertise but all with a unifying interest in environmentalism. Some of our key speakers included Justin Cummings, the 2020 mayor of Santa Cruz, in addition to local activists and leaders from organizations like UCSC, Watsonville Wetlands Watch and the City of Watsonville Resource Conservation Office. In addition to student speakers from the Pajaro Valley High School Eco-Fashion and Garden projects, Youth for Climate Justice Santa Cruz, and the Watsonville Wetlands Watch Climate Corps Leadership Institute. Our hope with the variety of speakers at the summit was to connect and inspire all of our students, adults and faculty to make productive change for the future of our world. In addition to panelist speakers, we had workshops led by more local organizations all focusing on different things from meditation and eco-anxiety, to proper environmental action within Santa Cruz County. “A big takeaway from this summit was all of the resources I was open to. It’s so hard to be able to find service opportunities and participate in things that I am passionate about. At the summit there were so many people there that introduced me to programs in Santa Cruz County that I’ve never even heard of,” says Cristal Cardiel, a student participant at the summit. In addition to collaboration, a large summit focus was to learn.
With sustainability as our focus, making a low carbon footprint environment was very important to all of us at YEA. We had a local and vegan meal, with food composting and recycling available at the summit, and we minimized use of plastic and paper in the planning of the event. Amity, a YEA facilitator at the County Office of Education says that “the event has actually inspired conversations among staff back at our COE about how to make the events we offer zero waste or as low waste as possible.”
Whether you are passionate about food sustainability or environmentally-friendly transportation laws, we wanted to create the space at the summit where students and adults alike can share their concerns about what is inevitably all of our future. “To be surrounded around such a large community of people my age doing such positive change has been so inspiring because it shows me that it’s possible to do things as a high school student, whereas so many people in my life have told me something different,” says a student participant from Pacific Collegiate School.
Kayla Liu is a YEA Student Leader and a junior at Pacific Collegiate School. The Student Voices section is authored by Santa Cruz County students. Views expressed reflect those of the post’s author, not the Santa Cruz County Office of Education.