Dear EarthTalk: I'm thinking about starting an environmental club in my middle school. Can you give me some ideas about how to start? Can you connect me with other school clubs?
Andover Township, NJ
Starting an environmental club at school is a great way to get students energized about taking care of the Earth and helping their community while learning about some of the most important issues facing the world in the 21st century.
EarthTeam, a non-profit environmental network for teens, teachers and youth leaders, offers many tips on how to start an environmental club. First and foremost is to make sure there are at least a half dozen or so other students interested in forming such a club to begin with, and then also finding a teacher, community leader or parent who is willing to serve as an adult sponsor. The sponsor's role is to provide advice along the way and to help ensure the stability of the group from year-to-year given that all of the students, even the founders of the club, will eventually graduate, or move on to other interests or endeavors.
Once the core membership and adult sponsor have been established, EarthTeam suggests all sitting down together to decide on the club's vision ("Why are we here?") and to brainstorm about possible activities or projects to undertake ("What do we want to accomplish?"). Once these questions have been answered, it's time to hold the club's first official meeting, which should be advertised as widely as possible to other students who may be interested in finding out what the group is about and how they can get involved, too.
The next step, according to EarthTeam, is to forge an action plan that focuses on one group-oriented, year-long project that has measurable benefits to the school or community and that can keep the interest of the student members—who will no doubt be spending long hours volunteering. Whatever project(s) the group decides on, members should develop a timeline that clearly lists goals, dates and responsibilities.
In addition to undertaking the one major project, clubs can also host or sponsor special events for extra visibility. EarthTeam suggests getting students outside for a river or beach clean-up, a tree planting day, or a field trip to a local wetland, zoo or nature reserve. Another popular idea is to hold an Environmental Awareness Day to educate the entire student body about relevant green issues.
EarthTeam is also a networking platform so clubs can work together and share experiences with each other to help get a sense of the bigger picture beyond one individual school's locale, given the global nature of most environmental issues. Another great networking resource is the Greenspan website, which lists clubs in 21 different U.S. states as well as in Australia, Canada, Japan, Ghana and Malaysia.
Another great resource for those starting up new or managing existing school environmental clubs is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) Student Center website, which offers dozens of ideas for projects that both stimulate and enlighten participants while helping the local community. The website also provides links to several partner non-profit groups with club-worthy activities.
CONTACTS: EarthTeam, www.earthteam.net; Greenspan Environmental Club Network, www.greenspanworld.org/environmental_club_network.htm; U.S. EPA Student Center, www.epa.gov/students.
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