Helping young people keep it wild in 2021
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By Omar Abu-Seer, Sophie Jones and Charlotte Nwanodi,
Action for Conservation (AFC) is a UK charity working to empower the next generation of environmental leaders. AFC’s newest Programme Coordinators, Charlotte Nwanodi, Omar Abu-Seer and Sophie Jones, share why it’s important for young people to remain engaged in environmental action as we emerge from the lockdown and how programmes like WildED are helping young people drive a fairer, greener future.
Why should young people be thinking about the environment as we emerge from lockdown?
Lockdown has been a difficult time for everyone, especially young people. They’ve been confined to their homes, viewing the world through computer screens, and have had to adapt to a loss of routine - this has been a monumental challenge. Supporting young people to build resilience and maintain a sense of stability and lightness during dark times is vital to helping them keep their heads above water and to feel excited about the future.
The natural environment is a timeless example of resilience. If you look hard enough, it’s always there. Nature can be a source of comfort and familiarity, and it’s important to ensure everyone can access this. At the same time, the natural world faces an incredible number of threats and we need to act urgently if we’re to turn the tides.
Young people already understand the link between the pandemic and the natural world. When we surveyed young people in the summer, 67% said that the COVID pandemic made them care more about environmental issues and 100% said they wanted to learn more about the environment when they were back at school. Supporting young people to build a connection to the environment and then transform that connection into action for the natural world is exactly what our team at Action for Conservation is trying to achieve through the WildED programme.
What is the WildED programme?
WildED is a free secondary school programme that consists of several workshops over the course of the school term. The programme brings the magic of nature into the classroom, and increasingly young people’s homes, in urban areas across the country. Through WildED, we create safe spaces for young people to explore environmental issues and take action in ways that are meaningful and relevant to them. This autonomy is especially important right now, as young people have lost control over many areas of their lives in the past year. Allowing them to lead on something they are passionate about provides them with a focus that balances out the more uncertain aspects of their lives right now.
We’ve supported students to go head-to-head with their local council to tackle recycling and waste issues, campaign for water fountains and meat-free meals in their school, build food gardens and wildflower meadows, and educate their friends and family on the scale of the crisis and how to make a change.
WildED gives young people the knowledge, skills and support network to feel united in working toward a sustainable future at an incredibly important moment in time. Our focus for this year is mobilising young people around the upcoming COP26, which is an exciting opportunity for them to see and shape environmental decision making on home soil. We want to put young people in the driver’s seat of our country’s efforts to build back better and greener as we recover from the pandemic, and we hope WildED is the first step in this journey.
How does WildED motivate young people to take action?
Day in, day out, we hear young people express concerns about their future and tell us they want to be part of the solution rather than the problem. Young people are the cornerstone of social action; they bear the brunt of social and environmental issues yet they can offer creative and innovative solutions when given the opportunity and platform to do so. Unfortunately, they often don’t know how to get involved and are rarely given meaningful opportunities to take charge.
During WildED, we don’t just ask young people to get involved, we empower them to lead. We provide intersectional, relevant and relatable content to boost their confidence and ability to discuss complex environmental issues. Increasingly, we are helping young people understand how conservation issues intersect with issues related to social and environmental justice such as racism and sexism, to ignite a passion in young people whose interests lie outside of the ‘traditional’ conservation space.
The programme is facilitated by inspiring role models, including early-career environmentalists like us, who share expertise whilst helping young people connect their ideas to local campaigns and projects. We don’t dictate which issues young people should focus on; instead we encourage young people to explore a variety of issues before championing the one that resonates with them the most. By giving young people the tools and support needed to plan and lead their own action projects, they’re motivated to make us all stop and listen until their voices are heard.
Why should a school get involved in WildED when there’s so much else happening right now?
It’s been a challenging year for school staff as well as young people; teachers have been under tremendous pressure to deliver the same quantity and quality of teaching online as they would in-person. Field trips, visits to local green spaces, guest speakers and workshops have been sacrificed or heavily adapted to fit an online teaching structure.
WildED enables teachers to give their students an interactive and inspirational school experience that resembles those of a pre-lockdown world. In addition to offering a huge number of learning benefits for students, the programme is a lot of fun, an element that should not be undervalued right now. As facilitators, we use finger-on-the-pulse stories, entertaining media and creative tasks to bring joy and laughter into the workshops, and students are genuinely excited to participate. Sessions are crafted to expand students' abilities to research, work collaboratively and manage projects. Students frequently find themselves exceeding their own expectations of what they can accomplish, which is really exciting to witness.
WildED also helps students connect what they’re learning in the classroom (or from home) to the real world, which makes the programme more memorable and impactful. The lockdown has exacerbated gaps in education and programmes like WildED help bridge these by supporting young people from all backgrounds to attain transferable skills and knowledge that give them a leg up in a number of subjects.
The programme is also incredibly flexible - which we know teachers appreciate right now. We work closely with school staff to design a bespoke programme that fits their restrictions and teaching platforms, whether that be in-person or online. There is no reason to miss out on this exciting opportunity - just get in touch with us and we’ll chat through the options available for you. We can’t wait to get your students involved!
Action for Conservation is currently recruiting schools for the WildED programme in South East England, North West England and South West England and Wales for the Summer 2021 and Autumn 2021 terms. Please note that we prioritise working with schools in which a high proportion of students are in receipt of pupil premium. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
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