It is becoming increasingly apparent that the climate crisis is at our doorstep. With the onslaught of heat waves, drought, rolling blackouts, and more, I find many adults feel overwhelmed—me included! However, I see something entirely different in our youth. They are eager to create change and are already taking action to build a world that places people over profit and restores the health of our planet for future generations.
Despite continued disruptions throughout the school year in K–12 schools, youth in EcoRise classrooms were granted a record $71,970 in Student Innovation Funds to create 130 solutions to social and environmental challenges. We saw a range of inspiring projects. Students in Brooklyn are creating mini-hydroponic systems for every classroom to grow fresh greens for lunch; students in rural Texas are implementing multiple strategies, from an education campaign to biodegradable lunch trays, to reduce the amount of plastic waste their school produces. These projects are saving water and energy, reducing carbon emissions, creating outdoor spaces for learning and pollinators, and growing food for school communities across the nation. You can learn more about our students’ work in the Student Innovation Fund section of this report.
This was a big year for EcoRise. We returned to in-person convenings, hosting four Student Showcases nationally in addition to a series of virtual events. We published our new strategic plan and updated our mission statement to ground our work in equity and ensure environmental justice is centered in our programming. Over the coming three years, we are committed to expanding our school programs nationally, launching new Youth Climate Councils and green workforce opportunities, and accelerating systems change in K–12 schools through a collective impact initiative we call Gen:Thrive.
I am continually inspired by the 467,488 students and 8,348 teachers we serve across the nation, as well as by my phenomenal colleagues who persevered through yet another challenging year to make our schools and communities healthier, more equitable, and increasingly sustainable. I hope you enjoy reading the report that follows, which includes stories, milestones, and data points from the 2021–2022 academic year. Thank you for joining us in supporting youth and their educators as they make this dream a reality!