Students throughout the Diocese of Rochester are learning about the ways they can personally help combat climate change and teach others about caring for the earth.
"The little things we can do as individuals, such as reducing our meat consumption, taking shorter (and) colder showers and buying eco-friendly products can make a big different on both the world of today and tomorrow," said Elmira Notre Dame student Ana Coulibaly.
Last school year, Coulibaly took an environmental science honors class taught by Michael Sherman. In an e-mail, Sherman explained that the class finished the year with a project related to Pope Francis’ encyclical, "Laudato Si’: On Care For Our Common Home." On the main bulletin board in the school, the students created a collage of pictures from the book Climate Refugees. In the center of the collage, the students posted some of the passages from the encyclical that they found most meaningful, Sherman added.
Coulibaly and her classmate, Brooks Givens, said they had not read the encyclical before taking Sherman’s class.
"The pope’s stance on climate change was not surprising to me, as I had previous knowledge of his commitment to environmental reform," Givens added. "Reading the encyclical however, made me really understand how deeply the pope cares and values the world we live in."
The project made both students understand the roles young people must play in caring for the earth to improve its climate conditions, they said.
"My opinion on the environment changed very much over the past year because of the class," Givens said. "We are headed in a very dark direction, but we are not beyond the point of no return, we can still change our course, and I think the pope believes that as well."
Other schools around the Diocese of Rochester also have taken on projects to care for the earth and heed Pope Francis’ call in his encyclical.
In the Rochester City School District, fourth-graders at Henry Hudson School No. 28 worked with staff and volunteers from Seedfolk City Farm to plant in their school’s garden beds and greenhouse. They also developed new habits on composting that they brought home to their families.
Amber Powers, an English as a second language teacher and Seedfolk board member, wrote the application for a $15,000 grant for School No. 28 to partner with Seedfolk and cover the costs of materials and instruction for the pilot program. The program also was to serve as the basis for a curriculum on composting and recycling that she was developing this summer to make available to all area schools, Powers said.
Nine-year-old Erialanys Arroyo had never heard about composting prior to the start of the pilot program, although her family does have a garden in its front yard. She initially thought composting meant recycling, she said. But when she learned that it means collecting food scraps that can be used as fertilizer for soil to help things grow, she was sold.
"You’re not trashing Mother Earth," she said of the importance of composting.
Students in the primary grades at Chili’s St. Pius Tenth School also have focused on gardening, planting and talking about gardening at home, explained Lucyann Ormiston, a fourth-grade teacher who has been involved with the school’s transition to a new science program called Science Fusion. The new curriculum has a bigger focus on ecology, she said.
The students in the fourth, fifth and sixth grades also participated in an essay contest sponsored by the Catholic Daughters of America, which asked them to write about how they are good stewards of the earth, Ormiston said. Several students won first and second places for their essays about recycling, picking up litter, and reusing plastics and metals, she added.
"(The contest) also tied in with our religion program," she said. "God gave us this creation. It is our responsibility to take care of it (earth)."
Reuse and recycle also was the focus of a program in Danielle Watts’ fourth-grade class at St. Francis-St. Stephen School in Geneva. She spreads this message all during the school year, she said, and has kids discuss the ways materials can be used instead of thrown away.
She also touched on the pope’s encyclical in general terms, she said.
"We talk about how God created the earth for us," Watts said. "It is our responsibility to be good citizens and take care of it."
As Earth Day neared this year, Watts’ class also read Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax and watched the movie, she said. After watching online videos of landfills and recycling plants, they then collected recyclable materials from home, such as plastics, metals, glass and paper, she said.
They sorted the collection and began making robots from the materials, Watts said. The students worked in pairs and designed robots that did such tasks as cleaning the air or sorting garbage for items that could be recycled.
"They were really inspired," Watt said. "And it was a good way for us to talk about how we can take care of the earth."