Sanford 10th grader Lauren Downs has always had a passion for nature and the great outdoors. But as she grew up, she wanted to learn and do more to protect the natural beauty she enjoyed. So when she heard about Delaware’s first-ever student-led Youth Environment Summit, dubbed YES!, she, eagerly joined 300 students from across the state to participate.
The day-long summit took place in Dover on Friday. The idea originated to give students a voice on big issues such as climate change, water quality, biodiversity, and more.
“I want to help protect our environment — that’s where we live. We only have one planet,” said Downs, who volunteered on the conference logistics team to help plan for the summit. “There’s scientific evidence to show that our environment is in danger — species will die, and we’re going to lose crops. Things are going to get really hard if we don’t do something about the environment,” she said.
High school students from 23 district, charter and independent high schools across all three counties took a day off from their regular classes to participate in the full-day conference.
The day included a mix of workshops, student-led lightning talks, keynote speakers and exhibitors, including nonprofit groups in Delaware, who shared resources and connected students to other organizations. And each student developed their own action plans about saving energy, reducing waste, and improving health.
Odyssey Charter School senior Maryam Woods helped plan the entire summit as co-chair of the workshop committee. With the help of an adult mentor, Woods also created and led her own workshop entitled, Social Media, Fake News and the Environment. She taught participants how to correctly identify fake news and misinformation and shared several check fact-checker tips. “It was great to have a space where we could learn how to advocate for change,” she said. “There’s not a lot of events that target young people, despite the fact that a lot of students feel very passionate about the environment.”
Downs attended several workshops, including Environmental Impacts and Our Food System. “I learned from the animal agriculture workshop that just decreasing our meat intake can help the environment because the raising of animals takes a lot of resources and actually generates pollution,” said Downs.
Sanford juniors Melissa Daniels and Samara Durgadin also attended YES! along with Downs. The three students — all members of the Sanford Environmental Action League (SEAL) club — came up with an action plan for their school. “We’re going to try to improve the recycling at Sanford. We plan to communicate that Sanford does in fact recycle, and we’re going to develop ways to show the school community how to recycle properly,” said Downs.
Sen. Tom Carper and Governor John Carney also stopped by YES! to thank the students for their initiative. “When I took the oath of office to become Governor, I pledged to ‘respect the right of future generations to share the rich historic and natural heritage’ of our state. That’s what this summit is all about,” said Governor John Carney. “I’m so pleased to see so many Delaware students leading on this issue,” he said.