Students in South Whidbey High School’s Climate Arts Project have worn many hats over the past several months as they prepared for today’s Earth Day assembly and activities: performing artists, activists, and environmental stewards.
They’re also running almost the entire show.
Unlike previous years where members of the community have helped organize and plan the school’s annual assembly and activities in recognition of Earth Day on April 22, students from two extracurricular clubs, Green Team and Drama Club, joined forces to put on the event themselves. They’ve organized a performance that will include spoken word poetry, skits, original songs and interpretive dancing during the 50-minute assembly, followed by a half-day of activities. While community members and mentors such as Ann Linnea, Julie Glover and Deanna Duncan of the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts have lent a hand in planning and guidance, the students handled the main responsibilities. The organizers — Kari Hustad, Chloe Hood, Amelia Hensler, Kyle Kaltenbach and Skye Telleen — produced a 50-minute show containing nearly 100 percent original content, and organized almost three hours worth of activities that include a volunteer fair, a panel discussion, tips on how to write to elected officials, art activism and the first opportunity for students to work on a garden being installed at the high school campus.
While the assembly and activities are just for the students, the community is invited to the Climate Arts Project’s performance tonight from 6-8 p.m. at the Bayview Cash Store. They will also perform at Langley Middle School and South Whidbey Elementary School this week.
The Climate Arts Project revolves around the students’ interpretation of climate change, how it impacts them and how they can make a difference in the world they will inherit.
Hustad, a senior, said the drawback in previous Earth Day assemblies has been keynote speakers who talked about far-removed issues that students had little to do with. The hope is that the performances will portray an active effort to discuss climate change through the arts, while also being relevant and appealing to all types of students, Hustad said.
“Our brand of activism is more about educating the student body and inspiring the student body,” Hustad said. “It’s really hard to just listen to facts coming at you.”
Duncan, education director at the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, is among the list of mentors who have helped students throughout the planning phase with guidance and advice. Others include Tess Cooper, Kathryn O’Brien, Caitlin Jones, Cary Peterson, Christyn Johnson and Susie Richards.
Duncan said she is most impressed by the fact that despite preparing for graduation, juggling sports and all of the other responsibilities that come with being a student, they’ve undertaken a mission to spread the word about their message.
“They wanted to tell their peers and their community something they were passionate about,” Duncan said.
Glover, another mentor who is a youth development professional, said the students’ emphasis is about acting upon things they are passionate about, and not conceptualizing their ideas.
“Because the youth are the ones who are inhabiting the earth,” Glover said.
For senior Jay Bierschenk and sophomore Marla Kelly, it’s about reinforcing the idea that climate change is real and that it shouldn’t be ignored.
“There are some people in this world that definitely do not believe in it and are just dismissing it,” said Kelly, who wrote two of the three skits to be performed. “I’m just trying to make sure that message gets out there that we need to do something about this and if we don’t, we’re not going to get anywhere with any other problems unless we solve this one first.”
Bierschenk said the event is also about empowering students to advocate for change. Bierschenk believes students sometimes don’t take initiative and use the excuse of feeling like a kid to float through life.
“I’m passionate about it because if I don’t do something about it, my kids are going to have to,” Bierschenk said.