Elmira Notre Dame students address environmental concerns - Catholic Courier
A greenhouse is seen on the grounds of Elmira Notre Dame High School.. A greenhouse at Elmira Notre Dame High School, dedicated in the spring of 2021 as part of the school’s Earth Day celebration, is an ongoing focal point for activities involving Notre Dame science students. (Photo courtesy of Michelle Barkley)

Elmira Notre Dame students address environmental concerns

If Pope Francis ever needs a publicity team to share his concerns about the environment, he’ll do well to start at Elmira Notre Dame High School.

The school’s strong environmental focus was highlighted at the annual diocesan Catholic Charities social ministers’ conference, held virtually May 25. During a 15-minute series of presentations on ecological education, Notre Dame students and faculty shared how their endeavors meshed with the conference’s theme — the pope’s 2015 encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home.”

Elmira Notre Dame students emphasize environmental action

Neal Moore, the first of three student speakers, described how he led construction of a greenhouse on Notre Dame’s campus for his Eagle Scout project. The greenhouse, dedicated in the spring of 2021 as part of the school’s Earth Day celebration, is an ongoing focal point for activities involving Notre Dame science students. Funding for the project was obtained through the efforts of Sarah Hazelton, the school’s biology teacher and science-department chair, who secured a grant from the national Catholic Climate Covenant initiative. The greenhouse is named in honor of Karen Jennings, a longtime administrator at Notre Dame.

Neal acknowledged that construction of the greenhouse was challenging but ultimately successful thanks to many volunteers who assisted.

”A lot of people came to help build this greenhouse, which I’m very thankful for,” said Neal, who is beginning his senior year at Notre Dame.

Following Neal’s presentation, fellow Notre Dame seniors Kurt Golden and Ella Chicone shared with their online audience the many efforts of their “Climate Crusaders” club. The group’s initiatives include implementing beverage recycling bins and other fundraisers to support the club; using compost bins to grow vegetables that can be used as cafeteria food; placing awareness posters around the school regarding pollution, water conservation and recycling; eventually creating a butterfly garden to preserve endangered species; and recruiting new students for the club.

Kurt said that during Earth Week in April, Climate Crusader members were stationed in the high school’s main hallway where they shared information about endangered species as well as “lots of different fun facts about all the issues that our planet is facing environmentally and possible solutions.”

Ella noted that Climate Crusaders was created in the summer of 2021, saying that “we realized we needed an environmental club. (The environment is) one of the main issues that our world is facing, and we needed (a club) in order to be part of the change.”

“We’re very, very busy. We have a lot of ideas,” Ella remarked.

Teachers focus on environmental issues in the classroom

Deborah Fredo, who teaches service learning at Notre Dame, added that her 2021-22 curriculum was dedicated to the environment, with students being able to earn college credit for their efforts. She said the initiative has been successful thanks to “some very active students working on environmental actions that we have not had going on at the school previously.”

Another speaker, Jenica Drehmer — a Notre Dame middle-school English teacher — noted that her students are actively involved in fundraisers to support Water for South Sudan. The charity seeks to provide impoverished Sudanese residents with access to clean, safe water while also improving hygiene and sanitation practices. It was founded by Salva Dut, the principal figure in the 2010 book A Long Walk to Water that has been read by Drehmer’s classes.

“The children really learn the importance of water and of the earth and of giving back, and generally feel like they are making a difference, which is the best part for me,” Drehmer said.

Tags: Catholic Schools, Chemung County News, Environment
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