This past Saturday, I spent the day with actor Matthew Modine and 1,000 other parents, educators, students, vendors, facilities managers and community leaders at the Green Schools Alliance Resource Fair here in NYC. OK, I didn’t really “spend” time with Matthew Modine. Actually, I didn’t even talk to him and I arrived a little late for his presentation, but the point is that he and I and 1,000 other folks decided to spend a precious spring Saturday indoors, away from our families, because we all believe that school should be a place for our kids to learn about environmental stewardship in a safe, non-toxic facility.
The event was a mix of presentations, break-out workshops, and a resource fair with almost 100 exhibitors showcasing everything from “litter free lunch” materials to climate education to various schools’ green accomplishments. What’s amazing is that many of these school greening efforts were spearheaded by parent volunteers who selflessly devoted hours and hours to working on committees, meeting with the school administration as well as the NYC Board of Education, decoding the maze of city bureaucracy, dealing with unions and associations, all so that our kids learn to be responsible citizens of planet earth while not getting exposed to toxic chemicals and wasteful practices at such an early age.
The speakers were all inspirational – I was so excited to hear Jamie Cloud of The Cloud Institute speak about the importance of teaching systems thinking, and to hear about Matthew Modine’s Bicycle for a Day program. Steve Ritz’s stories of converting Bronx teens from craving “Crack to Cucumbers” through his urban farming program at school literally brought tears to my eyes. After attending so many depressing presentations over the last few months in the wake of Copenhagen, it was heart warming to hear so much optimism and hope for our future. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that PS 166, where my daughter goes and my son went to elementary school, was presented with an award for winning the Green Cup Challenge for New York- a contest in which schools competed regionally to reduce their energy use over a month. This was again due to the efforts of some unbelievably dedicated parents and a cooperative school administration.
What struck me the most about this event, in addition to the shear number of participants, was the interesting break down in the background of the participants. While a large number of them were true greenies who have been fighting for the environment for decades, an equally large number were reformed MIGGs like me, only relatively recently clued in to the dangers that wasteful practices, processed food and toxic products have on the health of our children, ourselves and our planet. This is an excellent thing to see, all of us working together towards the same goal, all of us getting our butts out of bed, missing brunch, baseball and soccer games in the park, and forgoing other Saturday happenings to secure a better future for our children and their children as well.