On Wednesday, June 8, NJ First Lady Tammy Murphy honored a team of students from Hopewell Valley Central High School’s Youth Environmental Society (YES) with a first place award and a $2500 grant for their submission to the New Jersey Student Climate Challenge. 

The students’ winning entry documented their process of researching and developing a proposal for climate action, which they had presented to the Hopewell Valley Regional School District Board of Education in March 2022.

The team included HVCHS seniors Kevin Amon, Akhansha Arvind, Annika Ault, Nadia Chasalow, Angelina Graf, Daphine Newton, and Abigail Rise, and their advisors HVCHS teacher Carolyn McGrath and HVRSD Director of STEM, Dr. Scott Brettell. Atlantic City Electric, Exelon, the Drumthwacket Foundation, and Sustainable Jersey administered the New Jersey Student Climate Challenge, which included entries from schools across the state

McGrath said: “Hopewell Valley has demonstrated an ongoing commitment to addressing environmental challenges, and the Climate Action Proposal that the students presented to the Board of Education would advance and deepen that commitment. Many forward-thinking school boards across the country have already passed climate action resolutions, but we were not aware of any in the State of New Jersey. 

“The Youth Environmental Society hopes that Hopewell can become a leader in this area, providing a model for other schools in the state and the region as we work together to respond to the pressing issue of climate change. We were honored to be recognized for this work by First Lady Tammy Murphy, who has been an outspoken advocate for climate change education in New Jersey. As an advisor to the students who worked on this project, it was inspiring for me to see the powerful impact that young people can have when they come together to advocate for positive change.”

YES student team members pose with NJ First Lady Tammy Murphy at Drumthwacket Mansion in Princeton.

The Youth Environmental Society students worked for several months to prepare their proposal, which included consultation with climate experts from Rutgers University, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and the Watershed Institute, among others.

“The climate action proposal brings me a lot of hope, explained Akhansha Arvind. “By undertaking the actions outlined, our school District can elevate the wellbeing of the local community and lead the way to a better future. I highly appreciate our school board’s passion for environmental efforts and eagerly await the ones to come. I also hope to inspire other institutions around the world to implement their own comprehensive climate action plans. I’ll always be thankful to the amazing people involved in this process – we couldn’t have done it without everyone’s incredible contributions!”

The students consolidated their findings into a 28-page document that they shared along with a summary presentation to the Board of Education at their March 21 public meeting. The proposal included the request that the Hopewell Valley School District commit to creating a formal climate action plan that would address areas including education, facilities and energy, transportation, education, food and waste, and resilience. Within those areas, students generated recommended actions that would result in significantly reduced environmental impacts for the school District over the next decade.

Nadia Chasalow stated: “I am so grateful and proud of how we came together as a team to create such a comprehensive project. We all contributed our own strengths to this effort, and I think our collaboration is what allowed us to succeed in the Climate Challenge. I learned so much from the process of putting together the Climate Action Proposal, and I look forward to seeing where HVRSD takes this effort in the coming years. I hope that the Youth Environmental Society leaders and members who worked on this will continue to use this momentum to work to combat climate change as we follow our separate paths after graduation. I am inspired by this project as an example of the ability of young people to make significant changes in the world.” 

For the New Jersey Student Climate Challenge, team member Kevin Amon edited together interviews of the Youth Environmental Society student leaders with footage of them preparing and presenting their proposal to the Board of Education. This video was then offered, along with the written proposal and presentation, as the students’ official entry to the challenge.

Amon commented: “I wasn’t even a member of the Youth Environmental Society before starting this project. Ms. McGrath reached out to me and asked if I could help film and edit a video because she knew that I was into video production. I said ‘sure,’ not fully knowing what it would entail. It was an honor to be chosen to do this and a lot of fun to produce the video. All of the other members of the Youth Environmental Society have inspired me with their passion for saving the environment. To be able to utilize video production in such an impactful way meant so much to me. While I cared for the environment before this challenge, I was never one to actually take action and contribute to a cause. I think this changes all of that. I’m planning on getting involved in the environmental club at the college I’m attending in the fall. I’m so grateful I could be a part of this, and I’m incredibly proud of what we accomplished.”

HVRSD Superintendent Dr. Rosetta Treece lauded the team, stating: “I applaud our students’ efforts and unwavering commitment to ensuring that the District is moving forward in our sustainability mission and goals. We pledge to work with our students and the greater community and to take steps toward doing our part in protecting our planet.”

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