In April students from Asheville High school in Asheville, North Carolina wowed us with their performance in Drawdown EcoChallenge, a three-week challenge to reduce global warming. The group of 512 students (representing nearly half the student body) came in 1st place out of 767 teams. They showed us students today are smart, care about the environment (and other issues), and are powerful advocates for our future. The students’ reward for 1st place: a one-hour video chat with renowned environmentalist, Paul Hawken, founder and executive director of Project Drawdown.
Today’s guest blog post is from Sarah Duffer, a teacher at Asheville High School and coordinator of the impressive student team.
News of Drawdown EcoChallenge came across my email early in the spring of 2018. Hungry for an engaging way to teach my content I enrolled our school. I pitched the competition to students the week before our spring break (which also happened to be the first week of the competition). To my surprise, a handful of students used their spring break, like me, to delve into EcoChallenge.
Their work quelled any questions I had about teenagers’ reception to the competition. Once we returned from break, our work began. I created ten assignments that aligned with my curriculum and were focused on five of the seven Drawdown sectors: energy, land use, food, women and girls, and materials. Momentum was building on campus, and soon students in other classrooms and even clubs were getting involved.
Tragedy struck our school community on April 18 when one of our high school students, his middle school sister, and their mother were shot and killed at home. Our community was jarred in shock and grief. The two siblings were well known and loved by many of our students, and for the rest of that week learning took the backseat to grieving. This time, for me, was marked by the dichotomy of monumental loss on one hand and the promise of winning a competition that by then spanned 767 teams worldwide.
By Monday, April 23, it was clear that as the Earth rotated we were leapfrogging with anothert team for first place. Students were getting excited about the possibility of teenagers outcompeting a multinational corporation. I sent out campus-wide emails on the last day of the competition with a plea for a final push to earn over 22,000 points to secure first place. That morning was one of the most jaw dropping moments of my career as I periodically checked the dashboard and saw the massive gains we were earning. Students were learning about tangible, everyday solutions to arguably our planet’s greatest problem. On an emotional level, I saw smiles on faces for the first time in a week. I will never forget how our Asheville High School students bound together in the midst of enormous heartache and worked toward a common goal while learning how to create a more promising future.
When the possibility of winning Drawdown EcoChallenge became real, I was in awe that we would have an hour of Paul Hawken’s attention. I was first introduced to his business paradigm-shifting The Ecology of Commerce as an UNC-Asheville student in Dr. Dee Egger’s Strategies for Sustainability in Business course. To educate students on who Mr. Hawken is and what he has done for the social justice and environmental movements, we researched his past accomplishments and read his Drawdown essays.
Students wrote at least two questions they wanted to ask him. The top fourteen questions were selected from standard, honors, and AP students. Students asked questions and Mr. Hawken gave thorough, candid answers. Many students and faculty were deeply inspired and affirmed in their quest to continue the work we have ahead of us as we adopt the solutions in Drawdown.
Asheville High’s greatest accomplishments, in my opinion, were matching and surpassing every minute of the three-week competition with minutes spent learning.
Our work together not only earned us the honor of being the first place team in the inaugural Drawdown EcoChallenge, by a groundbreaking 31,000 point lead, but reinforced to teenagers and adults alike that today’s youth are indeed changemakers.