Connecting the why

By Pic Walker, ACE Executive Director

I just returned from Disneyland.  Yes, that magical park where kids imagination and dreams are embraced like no other place in the world.  While I got to enjoy the park and some of the spectacular rides with my kids, I was there to celebrate the Disney Planet Challenge. The Disney Planet Challenge is a national competition focused on environmental project-base learning for 4th, 5th and 6th graders.

The Grand Prize Winner of the Challenge this year was Operation: Save the Quail - a project run by Mrs. Julie Schnedler and her sixth grade class from Mediapolis Community School in Mediapolis, Iowa.  Operation: Save the Quail not only help to restore native Bob White Quail habitat, these kids got their whole community behind and involved in the project.  I got a chance to spend two days with some of the students, teachers and parents from Mediapolis.  It was amazing.

You might ask, where on earth is Mediapolis?  That’s a great question.  It’s four hours from Chicago by bus and close to Davenport, Iowa – basically smack dab in the middle of the country.  The population is less than 2000.  While a lot was made about the size and location of the town, what I was fascinated with and what I took most away from this experience was, not where the kids were from, or even what they did to win the competition (although it was an amazing effort by a ton of people in the community), but why they did what they did what they did.

Talking to these students throughout the week, their reasons to act became obvious.  Most of these kids either grew up on a farm, parents worked on farms, or they grew up playing on a friends farm; they have an intimate and intrinsic connection to the land that I did not grow up with living in the suburbs of Boston.  For them, this translated into protecting one of the keystone native species in their region, the Bobwhite Quail.   The Bobwhite Quail represented to them what was so important to preserve: the land.  And as the students entered the contest they learned how fun it could be to work with a team on a project that makes a difference for the local and global community.

As the parade for Mediaopolis rolled through Tomorrowland and the celebration drew to a close, it struck me as the head of an NGO whose mission is to inspire students to take action to curb the causes of global warming, just how important it is to connect to the why.

Like Mediaopolis, I think the easiest way  to do this is by localizing issues and making climate change personal. While global warming is looking like it will be the challenge of this century, we must first connect the challenge to an issue that effects us day in and day out, in the places we care about the most, our communities and our homes.

The 6th graders from Mediaopolis proved the power of building a local movement, and ended up winning a national competition that the world now knows about.  It’s simple, and magical.