Updated: 7 days ago
“Let me just remind you, you’re not in California anymore. This is Texas.”
This was an exact quote I heard from a potential group of allies when I first explained the motivation behind Leander Green Schools Campaign, a GSC initiative I had started in my school district, Leander ISD. My family had just moved from Southern California to Central Texas. Upon transferring into a Texas public school, I decided to start a GSC initiative at this new school district. Partially motivated with the knowledge that in the time I had worked with the international Green Schools Campaign, we had not had any schools from Texas sign up to start a GSC initiative.
I knew starting a GSC initiative at a Texas school district would not be similar to the GSC initiatives I had worked with thus far in California. The quote above only served as a
reminder. But I felt that if we were to have at least one successful initiative in a Texas district, it could serve as a catalyst for more districts across the Lone Star state to pursue similar renewable energy initiatives. Within the first few weeks of our campaign, we were able to build up a coalition of students, teachers, local climate leaders and non-profits, energy companies, and even a member of the State Board of Education. It was mind-blowing, really, when we first saw the extent to which we had been able to grow support for an environmental initiative at LISD. But the real challenges started when it finally came time to bring the specific goals of the campaign to the public and address potential implementation strategies.
“Transition LISD to 100% clean renewable electricity by 2030 and all other energy needs
by 2040”. This was the one-liner mission of our campaign. Not only did we want to achieve the goals set in this mission, but also we wanted to do so through a primarily youth-led movement. Leander GSC served to be a youth-led initiative that would help achieve the goals of the campaign. These two aspects, the actual renewable goals of the campaign, and the emphasis on being “youth-led”, were the stems of most of the criticism and pushback we received. On April 7th, 2023, students of the Leander GSC attended our first school board meeting on behalf of the campaign. Six students from three schools in LISD were given the opportunity to speak during the “Citizens Comments” section of the board meeting, with each of us being given three minutes to speak. From where we were sitting towards the back of the conference center, I noticed a parent sitting near us with poster papers and large black markers on their laps. When the board meeting facilitator announced our group and what we were there to speak about for the evening, the parent began writing: “DO NOT BRAINWASH OUR CHILDREN.” She took another sheet of paper: “SCHOOL IS NO PLACE FOR ACTIVISM.” I watched her as she went through six or seven poster sheets, writing messages along the same line, and then distributing them to the parents sitting in the group around her. When these signs were held up, they could clearly be seen and read by the board members seated at the long table at the front of the room. It took us by some surprise when we read some of those signs. We’d often heard about parents with strong opinions trying to assert their control in school board level decision-making. But actually, seeing them in-person, and having those strong opinions now be pointed at something we were very directly involved in, was a different experience. I think this is when I first realized that despite the coalition of support we had, there were a lot of important people that would ultimately play a role in the success of this initiative who were currently not in support. I was aware that parents had a direct influence on how school board members decided to vote on different propositions that were on board meeting agendas. So more of our efforts would have to be focused, in particular, towards these parents who did not support our mission. Addressing concerns regarding the goals of the campaign’s mission required an approach that involved addressing certain hard held political opinions. Some of these parents didn’t believe in the climate crisis, so they didn’t want their kids to be educated on it. This was one of the first times since the start of my climate advocacy journey where I had to explain in-depth the reality and truth of the climate crisis. Having been trained as a climate leader with the Climate Reality Project really helped me with addressing this aspect of political pushback. We invited parents to come to the presentations we gave in classrooms of teachers who generously offered their class time to us. Our presentations became tailored to include hard evidence of the climate crisis, highlighting the drastic impacts that could be seen here in the state of Texas. We also emphasized the positive effects of youth activism, such as the lessons in leadership it would help instill in students, and clarified how engaging in youth activism while in school would not actually take away from the education a student would continue to receive from their school. Changes in mindset weren’t immediate. After all, we were trying to change these parents’ opinions on a matter that news outlets, research articles, and other sources had not been able to change. However, every new parent that we saw join our coalition provided the motivation to keep going. Some of these challenges that we addressed as part of Leander GSC were actually
opposite of a common trend I’d seen in other GSC initiatives I had assisted with in the past: we initially saw more support from a few of the school board members than we did from some parents. However, through paying attention to exact points of opposition, we were able to stay prepared with pitches tailored to our intended audience, helping address some concerns that opposition had.