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    Thursday, June 13, 2024

    Area students gather for a better, more sustainable tomorrow

    Student facilitators Zoe Wu, left, and Cornelia Hatfield, juniors at Marine Science Magnet High School, help attendees find their breakout groups during the Southeastern Connecticut Youth Climate Summit at Ocean Beach Park’s Port N’ Starboard in New London Thursday, March 7, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Norwich Tech sophomores Jazleen Lopez, left, and Solibella Davis talk with author and keynote speaker Erica Cirino, communications manager of Plastic Pollution Coalition, during the Southeastern Connecticut Youth Climate Summit at Ocean Beach Park’s Port N’ Starboard in New London Thursday, March 7, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Attendees listen to a speaker during the Southeastern Connecticut Youth Climate Summit at Ocean Beach Park’s Port N’ Starboard in New London Thursday, March 7, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Notes share answers to how attendees feel about the state of the environment and climate change during the Southeastern Connecticut Youth Climate Summit at Ocean Beach Park’s Port N’ Starboard in New London Thursday, March 7, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Student facilitator Zoe Wu, a junior at the Marine Science Magnet High School, takes notes on a speech during the Southeastern Connecticut Youth Climate Summit at Ocean Beach Park’s Port N’ Starboard in New London Thursday, March 7, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Sharon Lewis, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice, speaks to students during the Southeastern Connecticut Youth Climate Summit at Ocean Beach Park’s Port N’ Starboard in New London Thursday, March 7, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Students listen to a speaker during the Southeastern Connecticut Youth Climate Summit at Ocean Beach Park’s Port N’ Starboard in New London Thursday, March 7, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    New London -- The planet experienced its hottest February in recorded history last month.

    These students want to do something about that.

    On Thursday, 100 students from schools throughout New London County gathered at Ocean Beach Park for the first Southeastern Connecticut Youth Climate Summit.

    Organized by the Marine Science Magnet High School in Groton, the summit brought students, government officials and climate activists together to address achieving environmental sustainability in Connecticut.

    Marine Science Magnet High School juniors Zoe Wu, 16, and Cornelia Hatfield, 16, decided it was time to act for a sustainable future in their freshman year environmental stewardship class taught by Bonnie Johnston.

    Learning how they could change the world wasn’t enough. They wanted to actively create change and kicked off an environmental club.

    “We, as a group realized that we really want to make an impact in the world and make a bigger change,” said Wu.

    As the club began to grow, local officials took notice.

    Megan Granato, the Groton sustainability and resilience manager, alongside Cierra Patrick, the economic development manager for the City of Groton met with the magnet school’s principal, Tara Amatrudo to support an inaugural youth summit.

    State Rep. Aundré Bumgardner, D-Groton, raised $7,500 in state funds for the summit. He believes it's time to give young people the chance to voice the issues they find most important.

    “I'm really proud of the students and Marine Science Magnet School over the last few several months…It's so evident that they care deeply about climate action at the local, state and national level,” Bumgardner said.

    Hatfield urged the group of students to continue letting their voices be heard.

    “We must stay hopeful and persevere, and come up with solutions,” she said.

    Throughout the day, students conducted activities involving protecting water quality, climate change’s disproportionate impact on lower-income communities and people of color, and ways to strategize organized action.

    Positive efforts toward ensuring climate change remain a key principle for the students.

    “It's only right that we're scared about the future. However, there is some positivity and thinking that we can make change, especially if we just keep working at it,” said Hatfield.

    The pair say they have faced difficulties in reaching older generations, who feel that climate change is not their concern.

    “Older generations…[are] really stuck in their ways of what they were taught when they were kids,” Wu said. “...They're not always thinking of the next generation, which I feel like is really important.”

    However, they’ve made some inroads.

    Hatfield’s grandfather initially believed fluctuating temperatures over time were natural. But after listening to his granddaughter, he grew more understanding of climate change’s impacts.

    Bonnie Johnston, a science teacher at the high school says despite negative assumptions about Gen Z, she sees a generation of empathetic and bright leaders who want to make the world better in whatever way they can.

    “I see a passion and hopefulness in my students…I do feel hopeful when I work with them, because I see that they're smart, they're motivated, and they're aware of what the challenges are, “ Johnston said.

    Students in attendance were attentive and curious in how they could push for more sustainable measures in policy, protesting and everyday life. The keynote speaker, Erica Cirino, an environmental journalist and writer, urged the students to challenge power and fight for a sustainable tomorrow.

    Both school staff and local officials are confident the youth summit will grow in the coming years and hope to see even more schools involved.

    Hoping to study biomedical science and environmental policy, Hatfield is incredibly proud of the environmental club’s evolution from an idea to now garnering 100 students to discuss bettering the future.

    “It really was something that started out small and it slowly expanded as more people in the community wanted to get involved,” she said.

    t.wright@theday.com

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