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Academy with Special guest


Monday, the 25th of January, 2016, students from Oregon and Southwest Washington participated in the second Academy in Portland, Oregon. It took place at and was supported by Sunnyside Environmental School, a K-8 public school, as well as by P’nai Or Jewish Renewal Congregation. The Academy was led by Michael Foster, Pam Vergun, and Ambassadors Miko and Isaac Vergun, and Noah Clark, who put in many hours preparing; for Noah, it was his first time to lead an Academy. Miko arrived mid-day to join them in leading the discussion groups. Forty-six students aged 6 to 18 from four cities (White Salmon in Washington and Portland, Corvallis, and Philomath in Oregon) represented four home school groups and eight schools: the Grossman-Naples, Dahlquist, and Pappas homeschools and the Homeschool group Alliance Charter Academy, 3 elementary schools (Astor, Buckman Arts, Duniway), 2 combined elementary and middle schools (Sunnyside Environmental School, Roseway Heights), 1 middle school (Cheldelin), 1 combined middle and high school (Northwest Academy), and a private prep high school (St.  Mary's Academy).

Jan Zuckerman, who is a teacher and a co-founder of Sunnyside was the champion who made the Academy possible, arranging with Principal Amy Kleiner for Sunnyside to host it (thanks, Amy!), obtaining donations of wonderful food including an amazing taco bar, and contacting countless schools, many in person, to encourage registrations especially among lower income youth. (She even sent many students to the Vancouver Academy!). 350PDX has supported us with their endorsement of Plant-for-the-Planet. P’nai Or of Portland helped fundraise to cover additional  costs of the Academy. We were delighted with the help of Helen Lee who made possible the donation of food from Whole Foods and to Gabriel's Bakery who also generously donated food for the Academy. Several people took photos and video. We are exceptionally grateful to Cathy Zheutlin, videographer and volunteer extraordinaire, who filmed several aspects of the Academy!

Students arrived and were greeted by Ambassadors. Michael introduced Plant-for-the-Planet and showed “Now We Children Save the World!” Isaac and Noah gave the presentation. Then, we listened to the great comments of Zach Klonoski, Special Assistant to Portland Mayor Charlie Hales. Then, we took a break, enjoying Sunnyside’s beautiful garden.

We played the World Game, followed by taking turns reading a story of Climate Change. We discussed what makes a speech effective and gave out the slides. We all enjoyed the delicious food and awesome taco bar that Jan and her team provided. Miko and Isaac played ukulele and sang the song “Exploding Trains” by Ambassador Aji Piper.

As we finished lunch, special guest Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz who led the groundbreaking resolution banning new fossil fuel projects in Portland arrived! She was introduced by Isaac and spoke to us about how important this work is. We then went back out into the garden in front of Sunnyside and planted a 8-foot tall Western Red Cedar along with some ferns beneath it. The children learned from Steph Rooney, Sunnyside’s School Garden Coordinator, how to plant the tree and took turns helping to plant and doing things like visiting the chickens. After planting, Steph led us in a wonderful blessing of the tree.

We returned, and several students went off with Michael to practice for the afternoon slideshow. Pam and the group leaders and their assistants worked with the other students on World Café.

The presentation was attended by many families and by U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley’s Field Director for Multnomah and Washington Counties Jagjit Nagra who spoke to the students and their families and attended the graduation ceremony. Jagjit presented Pam and the Academy with a thank you letter hand-signed by Senator Merkley. The cafeteria was filled with students’ posters of ideas. Then, students received their appointments as Climate Justice Ambassadors, along with certificates, Tree by Tree, and Everything Would Be Alright. And, of course, we got some great photos and videos.

We would like to thank all those involved in this wonderful Academy. The Ambassadors said they were grateful for the dedication of Michael and Pam.
Everyone agreed that Miko, Isaac, and Noah did an awesome job leading the Academy. Special thanks to the adults who served as assistant leaders and to all the generous support of community volunteers who volunteered at the Academy and in other ways. We deeply appreciate the kind donation by Jan Zuckerman, Amy Kleiner, and Sunnyside of their time, effort, and space. Special thanks to the staff of Metro Parent, as well as many other organizations, particularly the members of the Tikkun Olam (Repairing the World) Committee who volunteered their time during the Academy and at other times, especially Hilda Welch, Cathy Zheutlin, and Joanie Levine.

More academies in this region are being planned for 2016. Upcoming Academies will be announced on the Plant-for-the-Planet website and at our local site:

More photos can be found at flickr