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Berkshires Educators and Students Meet to Discuss Environmental Issues

By Patrick Donges


Pittsfield, MA – More than 300 students arrived with their teachers Wednesday morning at Berkshire Community College to kick off the fourth annual Youth Environmental Summit, or YES for short.

The event, which featured student and advocate run workshops and presentations, was organized by the Berkshire Environmental Educators Network, which is comprised of the Center for Ecological Technology, Flying Cloud Institute, the Massachusetts Audubon Society and other local environmental advocacy groups.

Students discussed a range of topics, from the quality of local water sources to seed dispersal methods. The sound you're hearing now is one of the workshops at the event about the history and creation of clay presented by students from Lee Elementary School.

A keynote address was given by Will Conklin, the founder of "Greenagers", a Berkshires-based youth environmental advocacy group that works on projects from community gardening to maintenance of the Great Barrington Housatonic River Walk.

"I view the environment as something we are all dancing around every day of our life; anything that we are doing, whether it be going for a bike ride, or something more intentional as in recycling."

"If we see our environment as something we are constantly revolving around, then it's going to remain that number one thing that Jane said is what we're all here to focus on."

He's referring to remarks made moments earlier by Jane Burke, founder and director of Flying Cloud Institute.

"The environment is the number one thing to be learning about in school, because if we don't have that, we don't have anything."

Conklin said it's important to get kids out in nature and thinking about the environment at an early age.

"Because environmentalism is habitual just like anything else. If we start habits young then they continue through and we can build on those and really affect good change."

Among the youngest presenters at the conference were a group of fourth and fifth graders from Silvio O. Conte Community School in Pittsfield, who gave a presentation on identifying local mosses. Here's fifth-grader Zachery Barnes.

"I like nature because everything you look at is so interesting and there's something special about every living thing."

"We usually look at the big things, but we decided to look at the small things."

Barnes, his classmate Kendra Richards and fourth-grader Paige Secord said they enjoyed lecturing to students nearly twice their age.

"It feels good because we're younger than them and they don't know."

"It makes me feel like I'm the teacher for once teaching somebody else."

Monument Valley Middle School seventh-graders Kayla Dillon, Ivey Mueller and Sophie Horan gave a presentation on responsible and sustainable food choices.

When asked why it was important to preserve the environment, Dillon said.

" If the environment isn't clean then the world will turn into a disaster and we'll be living in our own garbage."

If we do end up surrounded by our own refuse, we may require the help of Jessica Redman and her fourth-grade class from Muddy Brook Elementary School, who ran a workshop on composting with red wriggler worms. Here students race to create a compost bin using newspaper, food scraps, soil and worms.

Redman said the project incorporates several different subjects as students write about and count the worms used to make the compost while also reinforcing a fun environmental message.

"This way we can do it right in the classroom; it's also somewhat of a class pet."

While they described working with the worms as "kind of gross" and described the life's pursuit of a worm as a quest to "eat, sleep, and poop," fourth-graders Ian Hadsell and Colin Deyo, both ten years old, said this about protecting the environment.

"Without the environment and all the trees and stuff we wouldn't be living right now."

"Without worms eating our trash, our world would be trash."