Evanston Township High School students have been demanding that the school hire a full-time sustainability coordinator, and on Monday, they walked out of school to support and promote their demands.
Students left ETHS at 1:30 p.m. and headed to Fountain Square, where they were joined by community members, climate activists, students at Beacon Academy and Roycemore School, and members of several community organizations including Citizens’ Greener Evanston, Chicago Area Peace Action, the North Shore Village Climate Citizens’ Climate Lobby and the District 65 Climate Action Team.
Once united at Fountain Square around 2 p.m., the crowd of almost 100 formed what they called an “Intergenerational Climate Strike.”
The ETHS climate justice group E-Town Sunrise organized the strike, which was originally scheduled for Earth Day but was postponed due to the weather.
E-Town Sunrise invited two Northwestern students and organizers of Fossil-Free NU – Lucy London and Jordan Muhammad – to speak. They told the crowd they both had organized similar strikes in high school and applauded the organizers for the work put into it.
“If we actually saw our relationship with the plants, with animals, with water, with the sky, then we wouldn’t have situations where universities like Northwestern are investing billions and billions of dollars in the earth’s demise,” Muhammad told the crowd.
Seven students and activists spoke at the strike, which concluded with a call to action. Chalk messages and handmade signs with messages such as “Hey [Superintendent] Witherspoon, this is your legacy” and “practice sustainability” decorated Fountain Square.
Lily Aaron, a leader of E-Town Sunrise, told the RoundTable that an ETHS sustainability coordinator is essential to enacting changes the group wants.
“We’ve kind of figured out that if there is no one in the administration that understands our demands, then how is anybody supposed to act on them?” she said.
Members of E-Town Sunrise don’t feel their input is being prioritized by the ETHS administration or the school board, Aaron said. A sustainability coordinator could act as a liaison between the administration and the students, she said.
District 202 has not responded to inquiries by the RoundTable regarding the possibility of hiring a sustainability coordinator.
Aaron said she would also like to see more climate literacy at ETHS as well as a cultural shift toward sustainability.
“ETHS is not equipping students with the resources or the knowledge needed to combat the crisis that we are set to inherit,” she said.
Another ETHS student, Sarah Oppenheimer, said students expect a sustainability coordinator to conduct an analysis to evaluate how best to improve the school’s sustainability, which may involve installing solar panels, switching to cleaner energy or improving recycling practices.
The coordinator would also keep those initiatives going and ensure that the school sees long-term improvements, she said.
A sustainability coordinator could also help the school reduce carbon emissions by switching to renewable energy, which would cut costs, Aaron added.
Evanston residents Rachel Rosner, president of Citizens’ Greener Evanston, and Jessy Bradish helped coordinate and lead the strike before the ETHS students arrived at Fountain Square. During this portion, Irene Elkin of Northshore Village shared a poem she wrote.
Joined by other community activists, Bradish has been leading a series of protests outside Chase Bank to demand that the corporation divest from fossil fuels. She initially scheduled a protest for Earth Day weekend, but after learning about the ETHS strike, decided to join forces with the high schoolers.
These ETHS students will have to deal with the impacts of climate change, Bradish said.
Adults need to do a better job of supporting the students, she said, and hiring a sustainability coordinator at the school is a great way to do that.
“It’s one demand,” said Bradish. “You couldn’t come up with something more doable.”
View video coverage of ETHS students’ Climate Strike walkout.
Why not have the students hire (and pay) for the sustainability coordinator out of their pocket? This would be a valuable lesson in putting their own money on the table, leadership lessons since this would be independent of the administration, learning about the cost of governance (that administrator costs money!), learn about recruiting for talent (and how to make the right impression when looking for a job), what makes a good resume, cost of benefits and the needed salary–all while making sure the average resident who is being pushed out of Evanston due to embarrassing property taxes does not have to pay for this position that does nothing for teaching the basic life skills our students need to succeed in a global economy. If we assume 60% of the students (let’s say 3,000 X .6=1,800) are willing to voluntarily pay out of their own pocket $60, the budget would be $108,000 less $30,000 for benefits. This would be a good lesson for the students on so many levels. It may even change the way students look at all administrative positions and how it enhances (or not) their future life skills.