Climate Change Town Hall

Acera School fifth grade student Malia Soderland shows off her project for “A Night of Action.” She’ll host a Town Hall on climate change this Thursday from 6:30 - 8 p.m. at the school in Winchester.

Ask some people about climate change and they might tell you it’s a hoax, not real or even use the ever popular phrase “fake news.” Ask fifth grade student Malia Soderland from the Acera School in Winchester and she’ll give you a completely different answer (spoiler alert: her answer is probably the more accurate one).

This Thursday, May 23rd, from 6:30 - 8 p.m., Soderland will host a Town Hall on climate change at the school located at 5 Lowell Ave. in Winchester (off Cross Street near the Woburn line). She’s already lined up one guest speaker, State Senator Jason Lewis (D-Winchester) who represents Winchester, Stoneham, Reading, Wakefield, Malden, and Melrose, and may have others.

(Eds. note: Sen. Lewis just recently had to cancel his appearance.)

According to Kerry Crisley, Marketing and Public Relations lead for the school, Soderland became interested in climate change after watching “a documentary on the impact of the palm oil industry on the rainforests of Borneo. She organized a ‘Night of Action’ for her fellow classmates and parents to watch the movie and discuss ways to help the planet.”

The youngster said she discovered the film during an internet search on deforestation.

From there, Crisley said that Soderland learned about the Sunrise Movement (www.sunrisemovement.org), a coalition of youth uniting to stop the climate crisis. Its website suggests ways for students to take action, so Soderland chose to organize the Town Hall event. Other ways to contribute include making climate change a priority during the presidential debates, organizing locally and/or remotely, joining the national support team, and writing a letter to the editor or tweeting your local state representative.

Through the Sunrise Movement Soderland also learned about the Green New Deal, a document supported by both Massachusetts Sen. Edward Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York who has been a champion of fighting climate change since, and even before, she officially took office.

According to the Sunrise website, there are now 104 co-sponsors of the Green New Deal “and rising.” Some co-sponsors include presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, and Kirsten Gillibrand, plus Massachusetts congresspeople Jim McGovern, Lori Trahan, Joe Kennedy III, Katherine Clark, Seth Moulton, Ayanna Pressley, Stephen Lynch, and Bill Keating.

Sunrise has also launched “The Road to the Green New Deal,” nine “massive tour stops and over 100 town halls all across America.”

The Green New Deal offers ways to combat the warming planet by flying less and eating less meat.

As Sen. Markey co-sponsored the Green New Deal, Soderland and her teacher, Kim Machnik, phoned his office to invite him to participate. Once it became apparent that the Senator wouldn’t be able to attend, Soderland and Machnik worked together on a list of other lawmakers to invite.

“She may have additional guest speakers (beside Sen. Lewis) who have not confirmed yet,” Crisley said when asked who else may appear at the event. (Acera founder and director Courtney Dickinson will be at the event.)

The Town Hall is a part of Soderland’s “Inquiry, Maker and Passion” (IMP) project. Acera (a nonprofit K-8 Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics school) features IMP Projects as part of its annual middle school curriculum. Every week, middle school students have blocks of unstructured time during which specialist mentors are available to advise on independent projects. Students can propose any project they are passionate about, such as organizing a service project, Crisley acknowledged.

Some of the other IMP projects that Acera students are working on include:

• • Designing and building a gumball machine with a built-in color sensor, so candy enthusiasts can choose what kind of gumball they get.

• • Designing and building a low-cost wheelchair that can also convert into a baby carriage or cart, so that lower-income people can afford to meet their health needs, and get multiple uses out of a single object.

• • Making jewelry out of "upcycled" materials such as plastic bags, the plastic centers of tape rolls, and chop sticks.

• • Several students are writing novels and works of nonfiction. Others are designing video games and conducting lab experiments to study bacteria or plant growth.

She went on to say the curriculum at Acera is created by its core classroom teachers, such as Machnik, to be interdisciplinary, project-based and hands-on. Year-to-year, different topics become thematic jumping off points. Some of the themes have focused on: climate change and the industrial revolution, energy, water and water infrastructure, and ecosystems.

At the town hall, Soderland plans to welcome attendees, give an overview about the Green New Deal, introduce speakers, and encourage people to ask questions and share their own ideas about ways the community can help mitigate climate change.

The fifth grader added how supportive her parents have been of her work.

Winchester itself has attempted to lessen its carbon footprint through the use of solar panels (on the roofs of the DPW and Vinson-Owen and soon on the roof of the high school), tree planting, water fountains to help fill reusable water bottles, banning single-use plastic bags at checkout, and purchasing electrical vehicle charging stations to promote the use of electric vehicles.

When asked how Acera students have contributed to lowering carbon emissions and helping the planet, Crisley said they have implemented environmental projects such as water conservation through a rain barrel and creating a garden that reuses and recycles K-cup pods (the coffee grounds are composted and the cups are used to sprout weeds).

The climate crisis has become a hot topic (no pun intended) locally, nationally and globally, and Soderland is doing her part to alert people of what can happen if citizens across Winchester, the state and the country don’t do something soon.

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