Animal Action EducationTeaching the next generation is everyone's responsibility. And privilege.
From conserving endangered species to fighting climate change, young people are key in protecting our planet.
Every year, the fifth-grade students at PS 107 elementary school in Brooklyn, New York research, write, and illustrate a book about an endangered species with support from a dedicated group of parents. This year they partnered with IFAW to tell the story of Kleenex, a North Atlantic right whale.
Collaborating with a wildlife organization on each book, the parents and students aim to highlight the dangers facing these species and raise awareness about conservation initiatives. The books are self-published and available on Amazon—all proceeds go directly to the wildlife organization with which they’ve collaborated.
In the aftermath of the largest climate protest in history where millions of students walked out of classrooms to march in the Global Climate Strike, young people are more mobilized than ever. By taking action and making their voices heard, they’re claiming a seat at the table alongside world leaders to help solve the biggest environmental challenges.
On the heels of this milestone, we spoke with one of the parents in the group, Tracy Tullis, about the importance of engaging youth in conservation and how parents can teach and empower their children to be the next generation of environmental stewards.
Q: How did you get involved in this project?
A: The project was organized by a small group of parents—a couple of journalists and a book designer—who wanted to do something to teach kids about wildlife conservation. Our principal thought it would work really well with the students’ nonfiction writing curriculum, and the books would be great products that the students could be part of during their elementary school years.
It’s completely volunteer. The parents run the [book writing and art] workshops during the kids’ lunch and recess hour, though the teachers are really supportive and the school has been enthusiastic. Every year, we have each student draw the [featured book] animal for the illustrations, so even if they don’t want to be involved in the writing, they get a chance to participate.
Q: Why did you decide to highlight a North Atlantic right whale in the book this year?
A: All the animals we featured in the past have been from a distant [place], so I thought it would be good to make a point that we have endangered animals here near our own country. The North Atlantic right whale was a great choice because it’s a critically endangered animal that kids in New York City might see if they’re out on the East Coast somewhere.
I also thought Kleenex’s story is so poignant—she was entangled in fishing gear and had to drag these ropes around for years—so I thought it would be something the students would connect with. We [write the books] as though the animal is telling the story. It makes it a very approachable, friendly narrative for kids to read. The fifth graders always read their books to the younger grades, who look forward to their turn to be the authors and illustrators. It’s really become this nice tradition in the school.
Q: How are you and the group of parents educating the students about critical conservation and environmental issues?
A: I feel like in some ways, it’s the kids lately who have really taken the lead here. I was just marching with thousands of others around the world in the Climate Strike. My generation has done almost nothing to revert this crisis and the potential for mass extinction. And it’s taken a 16-year-old, [Greta Thunberg,] to shame the rest of us adults. I like the idea of kids taking a stand like that. Marching, going to confront their representatives in the halls of Congress—I think that’s happening more. I hope that people have been inspired by Greta and see what’s possible. She started out sitting by herself in Swedish Parliament, and less than a year later, there are thousands marching. The kids are the ones who are taking the lead. That’s pretty inspiring.
Q: Why is it important to engage young people in protecting wildlife and finding solutions to global environmental challenges?
A: It’s important for them to join this movement because as we know, we don’t have a lot of time. And pretty soon they’re going to be making the decisions to either save or doom our planet. [Even] younger kids, 10- and 11-year-olds, are young enough to rethink the way we do things. Climate change is linked to wildlife conservation. Clearly, we’re at the stage where we have to do so much more than toss our recyclables. Are we going to continue to subsidize the oil industry and factory farms or are we going to start making changes and subsidize renewable energy and reforestation? Maybe they’re going to make changes about our consumption habits. Maybe we shouldn’t be eating lobsters and crabs if it means entangling whales. Maybe they’re young enough to start thinking there are different ways to do things.
Q: How can parents challenge their kids to look beyond the home or classroom and build connections to the real world?
A: I have conversations with my own kid about that kind of thing. I also think that parents can introduce their children to wildlife in ways that create respect for wildlife. [For example,] if you’re vacationing, go to a national or state park where you can encounter animals in their natural habitats. To me, hearing a wolf howl in the distance or seeing the tracks of a bear is so much more thrilling than seeing an animal in a zoo. Giving kids the opportunity to have those real encounters helps to impart the idea that this is their [the animals’] world, and it’s not for us to exploit them or exploit their habitat.
For more resources on how to educate and inspire youth to help animals, people, and the place we call home, register here.
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