Green Schools National Conference
By: Melissa Cowell, Grade 11, Ursuline Academy, National Green Schools Society Student Officer, Green Schools National Network Student Advisory Board

This past week I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Virginia Beach for the Green Schools National Conference with Green Schools, a MA-based, leading, national nonprofit organization, organized for innovative Environmental Education. Also joining us was National Green Schools Society Co-President from Algonquian Regional High School, Ian Rizzitano, and three students from Manchester Essex Green Team, Sam Koufman, Tasha Statz-Geary, and Christiane Noriega.

Our group of nine consisted of the five students along with one parent chaperone, and Robin Organ, Green Schools Executive Director/Director of the Green Schools National Conference-STUDENT SUMMIT, Maureen Alward, Green Schools Director of Students and Schools/Facilitator of the Green Schools National Conference-STUDENT SUMMIT and Eric Magers, Director of the Manchester Essex Green Scholars Program/Facilitator of the Green Schools National Conference-STUDENT SUMMIT. All of our students are members of National Green Schools Society and will be graduating with honor and recognition of being green students. We started off the trip by flying down on Tuesday night. Despite having some harsh weather conditions and flight delays on our connecting flight, we still made it to Virginia Beach safely, arriving to the hotel at one am on Wednesday morning.

On Wednesday, I participated in the Green Schools National Network Advisory Board Meeting, being selected as one of two students across the nation to sit on this distinguished Advisory Board of environmental thought leaders. This Green Schools National Network organizes the National Conference, and it was a great experience being in the room with talk the adults that do the work behind the scenes. Wednesday afternoon we had a meeting with just our group of 9. During this meeting we discussed our action plan for the rest of the week and weekend, along with who needed to be where and at what times. We also planned our meeting for Wednesday Evening. Wednesday Evening we had a meeting at the Convention Center for the students selected to participate in the National Leadership Council. This was a beneficial meeting for all us students, because we were able to share best practices along with give advice to each other on how to proceed forward and make each individual school greener. Here it was evident that the more brains put together the better, because we received information on how to go about our individual tasks. After this productive meeting, we went down to the Exhibitors hall in the Convention a center, and helped Robin and Maureen set up the Exhibition are for green schools and National Green schools Society. Wednesday was all work, but we were well prepared for the Conference.

Thursday was the start of the Green Schools National Conference. We got up, quickly had breakfast, and then proceeded to walk over to the a convention center. Luckily, we were staying in the hotel right next to the center, making it convenient to walk from one to the next. We proceeded over to the General session, which was the opening of the conference. Here we heard opening remarks, as well as a keynote address from Thomas Lovejoy, who serves on the board of directors for the Amazon conservation Association, as well as Population Action. International, and he serves on the Scientific Board of Saving Species. He discussed the issues our planet is facing today, and how what we were doing was going to impact the world. This gave us all the motivation to proceed for the rest of the day. After the general session we had a quick morning break, and then proceeded to the student summit. Here we had the opportunity to get our minds flowing, and met other students from across the nation who had the same goals as us for their schools. After the morning session we ate a quick lunch, checked out a few of the exhibitor tables, and then the students prepared to load the buses. We took the buses to the Virginia Aquarium, where we had the opportunity to walk around the aquarium, learn about sharks and turtles, as well as look at the different animals and ecosystems there. After a few hours, we were back on the buses and headed back to the convention center for our closing programs. Here we continued our student summit, meeting more people through a student social, and hearing some presentations on the importance of the student voice. We ended the night by enjoying our dinner presented in the exhibitors hall, and headed back to the hotel to enjoy a nice rest before our next day.

Friday, was the second and final day of the conference. We woke up and proceeded over to the convention center to enjoy another general session. heard from Peter Senge who discussed the impact students are having on the world today, and how they are so essential to our community. He also discussed why the Green Schools Movement is so extremely important. After this session, we had a quick morning break, and then proceeded back upstairs to continue the student summit. The first thing was a student panel, full of high school students who have done work to progress towards the green movement. I was on this panel, along with Tasha from Manchester Essex. Here we discussed our work, as well as answered questions regarding what we are participating in. This gave students the opportunity to hear from other students, which we found extremely beneficial. From there we participated in an activity where students came up with project proposals, and how they would execute them in their own schools. We then proceeded downstairs from lunch, and explored the tables the exhibitor’s had available for display. After lunch, we heard from a panel of college students who are continuing their green work while in college. Students were majoring in all different environmental and STEM-related fields, and it allowed us to understand that we are able to major in environmental fields and continue to help our earth throughout the college experience. We ended the day with a final presentation video made my Sam Koufman, National Green Schools Society Co-President, displaying images and videos from the past few days.

Saturday, our group of nine had the opportunity to go to an adventure park, and participate in a climbing and zip lining course throughout the woods. We had a blast! This was an amazing experience, and caused some of us to test our limits, but we all enjoyed it. We ended the night by all having a dinner together, and discussing what went well, as well as what could be improved from the conference. All in all, this was an amazing experience for all of us. We had the opportunity to meet with many other “Greenies” and make plenty of new friends. This is something that we will all remember for years to come. Although, the rest of the students in my group are all seniors, since I’m a junior, I can’t wait to come back next year! We are so grateful for our advisors, Robin Organ, Maureen Aylward, and Eric Magers for giving us this opportunity and allowing us to experience this conference. The 2015 Green Schools National Conference was an amazing experience and I can’t wait to go back next year!

Green Schools National Network Advisory Board

Adventure Park at Virginia Aquarium

Scenic View on Saturday night