Be inspired, be VERY inspired by K-9 students from the Midwest and their climate activism (supported by parents, mentors, community leaders, engineers, and scientists) from 1/06/21 to 1/06/22 and beyond)! These K-9 students were not misled by misinformation; they went (above and beyond) to explore and act pursuant to the science of climate change

Today marks the anniversary of events at the Capitol on January 6, 2022. But it also marks the day when my co-organizer of the Kids Climate Summit, the iconic and ever organized, Newenka Dumont, reminded our Kids Climate Summit 2021 team– that we–the team members scheduled to meet via Zoom on 1/06/2021– had a duty to take a break from watching the news about the insurrention–and discuss the aims of our 2021 Summit.

This is what I, Rhonda Stern, Newenka’s fellow summit co-organizer, remember about that meeting.

Newenka led off with a key question:

How many t-shirts do we need for the 2021 Summit? Generous CGCC Board President, Carole Jones, confirmed that the Dole Foundation would donate environmentally friendly t-shirts to all student and family supporters of the 2021 Summit.

And the brilliant IMSA team, led by Gwen Seeley-Joosse, Outreach Director at IMSA (for all IMSA initiatives in IL)— suggested that we ask the award-winning professor, Dr. Esther Ngumbi, to serve on each K-9 panel (middle school and upper elementary). A shout out to the generosity and enthusiasm of this extraordinary U of I professor; on the very day that we invited Dr. Ngumbi to serve as a panelist in February of 2021, Dr. Ngumbi told us she would be overjoyed to participate.

The final significant decision made that day was that students would question the experts about the cause and effect of climate change. We were overjoyed when Newenka also reported that Congressman Sean Casten–member of the House of Representatives and from IL–agreed to participate in last April’s Summit as well. As some of you may remember, even though Congress was in session on the evening of our Summit, Congressman Casten remained committed to participate. And DID!
Questions continued to drive our efforts related to our 2022 Summit:

We officially kicked off our initiatives through student participation in a global competition, the Climate Science Olympiad, see,

Eight students (two of whom were initially barred because they did not meet age qualifications) crafted action plans on how to solve climate crises around the world. Our Chicagoland representatives were:

Peter Datz, age 12, and his partner, Drake Boehm, age 14;
Brynne O’Hare, age 14 and her partner, Lily Rue, age 13 (Lily lives in WI and was the moderator of the 2021 middle school panel);
(Carole’s son and Logan); and
Two IMSA students also participated, Ella Lind (and her partner, Resh). Resh and Ella made it to the semi-finals of the global Olympiad competition.

Though CGCC and IMSA participants only had one opportunity to participate because we didn’t find the competition until the last opportunity to qualify (most teams were given three chances), student scores were so high that the coordinators of the 2022 Climate Science Olympiad now encourage students (ages K-at least 23) to compete.

Flash forward to October—the questions (and resources provided by K-9 students) continued. Ten year-old contributor, Celsey O’Hare, sent me a speech by Greta Thunberg; Celsey thought I should present the speech during a CGCC primer class, taught by fellow Board Member, the astute Violeta Balan and me. Award winning poet, Linda Wallin, also helped us teach about poetry—because Linda, a renowned poet, had the tools to educate students about poetry techniques. And also this past fall, gifted filmmaker as well as a climate activist, Monica Fox, compiled a short film highlighting key points made during the 2021 Summit. All of these efforts aided us in MAKING SOME NOISE about the 2022 climate crisis. You guessed it, our inspirational leader, Newenka Dumont, encouraged us to adopt this mantra as our theme for our 2022 Summit.

As our 2022 Summit team (Linda Zanieski, Violet Balan, Beyer, Carole Jones, and the IMSA team led by Gwen-Seeley Joosse) grappled with the question of how to format the 2022 Summit, we asked another question—how could we tap into the strengths of contributors (students of all ages).

Sophia Neeley, a friend from my doctoral program, joined our team in November of 2021. She proposed a novel platform for expression; Sophia suggested that CGCC and IMSA put together a digital, e-book through which students could contribute pieces (to include in the e-book) in areas of any student strengths. And Beth (who has also donated professional services to our 2022 Summit) suggested that we invite some students to serve as “green” ambassadors: student contributors willing to work with leaders of ANY community to support that community’s “green” initiatives. I have to give a major shout out to contributor, Hera Arbigecean (age ten or eleven), who created an artistic version of our logo –MAKE SOME noise! The praise continues; Hera’s eight year-old brother, Hermes Arbigecean, won the top prize in a contest explaining why he was thankful to support and participate in the Kids Climate Summit! I believe Hermes was given the award in early 2021.

Moving on to December of 2021.

Our team, supported by families in CGCC, professional members, and many generous contributors–including CGCC’s most enthusiastic cheerleaders, philanthropists, Joanne and Jeff Burgess. Also, the Dole Foundation–went above and beyond in December of 2021 (donated our eco-friendly t-shirts). The two most noteworthy projects were a “getting to know you” chat: (also lunch; note as well that this trip to U of I was also made possible by the Burgess family’s philanthropy) among our green ambassadors, Drake Boehm, Brynne O’Hare, Peter Datz, and Celsey O’Hare! These K-9 students outlined CGCC’s contributions to Dr. Trent Ford, the Illinois Climatologist and a U of I professor– and of course, Dr. Ngumbi. Abbie Enlund, Executive Director of the EEAI, also joined us–driving in from Peoria.

Our trip to U of I (Urbana campus) concluded around 4:30 pm with a visit to Dr. Ngumbi’s lab, plus a stop at a local DQ!

Now I will turn to the intersection with the aims of CGCC, our professional members, our committed families, our institutional partner of three years, IMSA, and key leaders in the fight against climate change. CGCC’s has consistently striven to involve students, parents, and community members—truly to give all of us a platform on the most pressing issues– including climate change, student engagement, scholastic opportunities, and self-care during the pandemic.

It’s an understatement to suggest that it truly “takes a village” to contribute to our community. Ever grateful to Peter’s mom, Sarah Datz, who joined us as a chaperone on our December 9th trip to U of I; not only adding logistical support, but contributing to our inquiry on climate change! And the memories of family contributions live on thanks to the support of locals, professional members, and again–the brilliant, Monica Fox–who aided students, parents, etc. in by preparing a “surprise” tribute to Newenka DuMont–in less than a week—12/12-12/17.

We ended 2021 and began 2022 with gratitude. On a personal level, I am particularly grateful to Newenka. Open to big ideas, Newenka listened to me–she helped me flesh out an idea I had to empower student leaders on the climate crisis on ways to spread awareness of climate change and encourage pathways for student action.

Eleanor Roosevelt summed up the gratitude I–and I believe all of the “teams” behind the Summit–have for Newenka and the CGCC community:

Many people leave footprints in your heart..great minds discuss ideas [back to Mrs. Roosevelt’s contributions]…we started our group…our circle of friends…and like that the circle [evolved]…there is no beginning and end…[while] tomorrow [may be a] mystery, today is a gift, that’s why we call it the present.

So I, Rhonda Stern PhD, and climate activist, begin this year ever grateful to each and every contributor to all of our Summits, past and present. Do we have the bandwidth to double student contributions? You betcha!

May the “force” be with us in 2022!

P.S. Never to be forgotten: heartfelt thanks to the students, educators, DePaul alumni (cohort created in 2012-13 school year and supporting professors!), educators, and dear pals in and around Chicago and beyond, supportive colleagues during my tenure in NSSD 112 (particularly Anne Krosnjar, Jeanne Banas, Dr. Mike Lubelfeld, Dr. Seth Harkins, and Peggy Burmeister who helped me “listen to the gifted and talented students in our district and others!) my pals from NU law, including my husband (and of course, our kiddos, plus my late father, Warren S. Liebman), HP Greenkids (and other awesome students from Highland Park, IL; (know that HP Greenkids was supported by gifted guru, Dr. Michele Kane), EPA leader, Mark Kasman, and activist and Pulitzer Prize winner, Ross Gelbspan.

Below are the links to the videos and vimeos featuring student efforts:

The short film featuring student panelists and volunteers who made the 2021 Kids Climate Summit a huge success. [short video prepared by Monica Fox]. Vimeo below:
See mention in Northern Public Radio article, ‘There isn’t enough being done by those in power’: how Illinois students confront environmental issues with help from teachers.

Interview conducted by IAGC Executive Directive Patsy Steinmeyer: Exploring with Rhonda Stern our CGCC Summit history and CGCC’s aims for our 2022 Summit:

December tribute to our courageous and driven leader, the iconic Newenka DuMont at

Why we need to pay attention to the warming of our planet NOW!

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