Alabama high schoolers making state a little greener
Even during a pandemic, a group of Alabama high schoolers from across the state band together to make their state a little greener.
In its second year of existence, the Alabama Environmental Youth Council selected 20 ambassadors from high school schools across the state to promote awareness and environmental sustainability on their home campuses.
Originally from Prattville, May Jung, a senior at Mobile’s Alabama School of Math and Science, started the group last school year in partnership with the Birmingham-based Alabama Environmental Council.
“For me, this has been one of the most impactful things I’ve done, not just in my high school career, but in my life,” said Jung. “Which says a lot, although I only lived for 18 years.
“I think it not only opened my eyes to all the different areas under the big umbrella of environmental issues and volunteering, but I was able to connect with all of these organizations and all of these people who are really interested in creating an impactful change and positive change in the state of Alabama. “
The 20 AEYC ambassadors meet bi-weekly via Zoom and are divided into committees for waste management / recycling, environmental legislation, public awareness, nature conservation and educational work.
They host public webinars on topics such as recycling, water pollution, solar energy, and garbage. The latest edition of the group’s newsletter featured articles on recycling, climate change and “the intersection between human diseases and environmental problems”.
The group continues to work with the Alabama Environmental Council and other environmental organizations across the state, including Conservation Alabama, Black Warrior Riverkeeper, and Alabama Water Watch.
But it’s the high schoolers themselves who choose their committees, topics, and book webinars with featured guest speakers to address topics like water pollution, recycling, trash, and climate change.
“There are a multitude of opportunities for anyone to get involved in environmental volunteering and to clean up their community,” said Jung. “But I think a big problem we face is that there is no real connection between all of these great opportunities and youth.
“I think the AEYC plays an important role in connecting Alabama’s students with everything that is on offer.”
Tammy Monistere, executive director of Conservation Alabama, said the AEYC has been instrumental in starting recycling programs in local high schools and educating peers about the environmental impact of their actions.
“What they do is so important because children get involved in public policy early on so that they can be an influence for a lifetime,” Monistere said. “In relation to environmental policy in particular, we often see differences in the prioritization of things like climate change by each generation. Hence, this group of teenagers has an important perspective that can challenge all of us to better manage the natural resources we rely on. “
Pat Byington, president of the Alabama Environmental Council, said he was proud and amazed at how much the group had accomplished in two years.
“They are some of the best and brightest students in the state looking to raise awareness about environmental issues,” said Byington. “There is so much potential for positive impact that the sky is really the limit with these students.”
Over the past year, the group took part in other practical activities, including the 2019 climate strike protests and organizing clean-up operations.
With the added difficulty of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jung said this year the group is focusing on awareness-raising and education campaigns.
“Many of our movements are now more focused on what students can do from the comfort of their homes while complying with COVID regulations,” Jung said. “Rather than possibly having the risk of exposure to COVID by doing service projects and being around people, we’re trying to say, ‘Let’s get an education during this time and train students in Alabama and try to promote and to bring awareness to these issues. “
Hall Wellborn, a senior at Oak Mountain High School in Shelby County, said he found the organization via a Google search and was happy to be able to help make Alabama a cleaner place before graduation.
“I always knew I wanted to major in environmental science to improve the environment,” Wellborn said. “But I wanted to start something now.”
Ruby Krasnow, a senior at New Century Technology High School in Huntsville, said the group helped her make concrete contributions to her community.
“The greatest thing I’ve made of it is that I could use my knowledge and skills to make something tangible,” she said. “I built the AEYC website from scratch and that was the first time I did that.
“I’m still scared that something will crash and burn if it shows up, but it was really cool to see how my computer science skills are actually being used in ways that I think they are having an impact.”
Nathan Kim, senior at ASMS, said his time at AEYC will affect what he will do in his career after graduation. Previously, he had planned a major in chemical engineering, but is now delving deeper into environmental areas of study.
“It opened my eyes to so many different opportunities and what I could do, and it really changed my views about what I wanted to study and grow up,” he said.