Students from Oregon and Southwest Washington participated in the first Academy in Eugene, Oregon. It took place at and was supported by Temple Beth Israel, a Reconstructionist Jewish Synagogue, as well as by P’nai Or Jewish Renewal Congregation. The Academy was led by Pam Vergun, and Ambassadors Miko and Isaac Vergun, and Ariyanna Haygood, who put in many hours preparing; for Ariyanna, it was her first time to lead an Academy. Thirty-eight students aged 8 to 17 from about three cities (Eugene, Springfield, and Elmira in Oregon) represented three home school groups and fourteen schools: the Wacks, Warren, and Atman homeschools, 4 elementary schools (Camas Ridge Community, Adams, Edgewood, Charlemagne (French Immersion) ), 1 Catholic Elementary school (St. Paul Parrish School), 1 combined elementary and middle schools (Ridgeline Montessori Public Charter), 5 middle schools (Cal Young, Spencer Butte, Kelly, Linus Pauling, Roosevelt), 2 high schools (Henry D. Sheldon, South Eugene), and a private K-12 prep high school (Oak Hill).
Cameron Hubbe, who is a member of Temple Beth Israel (TBI) and active in several environmental and social justice organizations in the Eugene area made the Academy possible, arranging with Rabbi Ruhi Sophia Motzkin Rubenstein for TBI to host it (thanks, Rabbi Ruhi!), obtaining donations of wonderful food including an truly outstanding fish taco bar, and reaching out to many organizations to find students, especially youth from minority backgrounds who may not have had a previous connection to Eugene environmental nonprofits. 350PDX has supported us with their endorsement of Plant-for-the-Planet. P’nai Or of Portland helped fundraise to cover the additional costs of the Academy. Ariyanna and her mother, Jaynee Haygood, came all the way from Vancouver to volunteer and kept us going when other volunteers canceled at the last moment. Several people helped by taking photos and video, and Stacey Goldenberg and her family kindly hosted the Verguns the night before the Academy.
Students arrived and were greeted by Ambassadors. Pam introduced Plant-for-the-Planet. Isaac, Miko, and Ariyanna gave the presentation. Then, we listened to the great comments of Jacqueline Mayorga Rivera, from the Coalition Against Environmental Racism and Beyond Toxics, who made students aware of the direct impact of non-sustainable farming practices on farmworkers. Then, we took a break and enjoyed a healthy snack.
We played the World Game, using old pearl-like beads to represent carbon, and large and small shells to represent people and wealth. We discussed what makes a speech effective and gave out the slides with the presenters notes so students could practice giving small parts of the talk. Then, Reporter Ellen Meny from KVAL came and filmed the World Game and Rhetoric Practice, and Ellen interviewed Pam. Pam worked with the students to help each decide who would present in the afternoon.
We all enjoyed the delicious food and awesome fish taco bar that Cam and her team provided.
The hosts decided they’d like to try doing the World Café before planting to give the kids more physical activity later in the afternoon, so we started the World Café and practicing for the presentation after lunch. Pam worked with the presenters in the upstairs library.
We then went out to the garden at Camas Ridge Elementary School across the street and planted a Ponderosa Pine tree. The children learned from Doug Goldenberg, a member of TBI and botanist with the Bureau of Land Management, how to plant trees, with everyone taking turns. The afternoon presenters, including our VIP guests who were originally going to speak at the planting, went first so they could get back for some extra practice since they really wanting to do that. When the two groups got back, we continued that activity until it was time for a quick snack and the presentation. Michael returned, and several students went off with him to practice for the afternoon slideshow. Cam and the group leaders and their assistants continued working with the other students on World Café. After the Academy, Students’ posters of ideas were scanned and put online for them to make use of.
Rabbi Ruhi helped keep our guests engaged as we tried to solve a problem with the projector, and when it became clear that it was going to take too long to get it together, the students bravely went on with the presentation and did their best to compensate for the fact that Pam’s laptop screen could not be seen well from many of the seats. The presentation was attended by many families and by Rabbi Ruhi, and the students did very well, including those who decided to use hand-written notes. Corina MacWilliams and Wes Georgiev, two of the organizers of South Eugene High School 350 Earth Guardians who participated as students in the Academy, gave their impressions about the Academy and talked about how students can get involved. Then, Coreal Riday-White, Staff Attorney and YouCAN Program Manager for Our Children’s Trust and Plaintiffs in the federal Climate case Kelsey Juliana et al. vs. U.S. et al. Zealand Bell, Miko Vergun and Isaac Vergun talked about the work they are doing and how students can get involved. (Zealand was also a student in this Academy.) 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. I think the Ambassadors and their families appreciated the work that Pam had put into the Academy. Everyone agreed that Miko, Isaac, and Ariyanna did an awesome job leading the Academy. Special thanks to Cam and Jaynee and 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 Cam Hubbe, the organizing committee, Rabbi Ruhi, and TBI staff of their time, effort, space, and patience. Special thanks to Ellen, KVAL, and KMTR, for the TV news reports on the Academy, as well as many other organizations.
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 flickrBack