The Kids Are Alright

The Kids Are Alright

Kids feel like the adults make all the decisions until they’re old enough to vote, but that doesn’t have to be true.

LSRD Kids Postcards
Lower Snake River Dam Postcards

Last spring, Columbia Riverkeeper Community Organizer Kate Murphy visited classrooms at Sunnyside Environmental School, where third graders had learned about the life cycle of salmon. To complement the lesson, Kate explained how environmental issues like dams impact salmon, and included a civics lesson on public engagement. “One of the cool things we talked about is that you don’t have to wait until you’re 18 to make a difference. It’s your right when you’re little to speak up,” Kate recalled. “They loved it because it made them feel empowered. Before that presentation, they thought it was all up to the adults. Afterward, the kids were really excited to write postcards to elected officials telling them why they care about salmon and orcas.”

This example is one of many inspiring stories in our work with communities and youth. Columbia Riverkeeper hosts students at the river and visits classrooms, from second graders to community college classes. We believe working with students is a game-changer for our mission to protect the Columbia River, because the youth are our future. Students are catalysts for raising awareness, igniting conversations, and inspiring action. In our experience, students bring fresh perspectives and youthful voices to environmental discussions. Their enthusiasm, creativity and eagerness to make a difference invigorate our work and help us find new ways to address environmental challenges. This year we hosted 800 students at Nichols Natural Area in Hood River. Students learned about riparian zone function, tested water quality, studied native and invasive species, explored restoration techniques, and connected with the wildlife that inhabit the area through games and activities. Many of those students invite their families to volunteer at the Nichols Natural Area restoration events.

We aim to inspire kids to become passionate advocates for rivers, instilling a sense of environmental stewardship that will carry forward into their future endeavors. For example, this spring’s Hanford Journey event, led by Yakama Nation’s Environmental Restoration Waste Management (ERWM) Program and Columbia Riverkeeper, took students from Yakama Nation’s Tribal School and Heritage University on a one-of-a-kind school trip to tour the Hanford Nuclear Site. This on-site tour, led by Yakama Nation staff , elders, and leaders, was designed to inspire the next generation of Hanford cleanup advocates. When students become involved in our cause, their energy and passion ripple through their schools, families, and networks, multiplying the impact of our efforts exponentially. For example, this spring the Portland Climate Strike was hosted by youth fighting to make climate action an urgent priority. The focus centered around Oregon Governor Tina Kotek’s power to prevent fossil fuel expansion statewide, including the GTN Xpress pipeline expansion proposal. Two months after the strike, Gov. Kotek officially went on record opposing the project. Together, we can create a brighter and healthier future for the Columbia River and beyond.

Columbia Riverkeeper’s Education and Outreach Work Includes:
  • Providing free bilingual (Spanish and English), hands-on environmental education programming to youth and young adults from Columbia River Gorge schools.
  • Hosting pollution education and prevention webinars, events and associated social and earned media outreach.
  • Updating and expanding our online middle-school curriculum, which offers easy-to-implement science units that tackle important environmental issues and inspire action by empowering students with the tools to think critically
  • Creating a welcoming space along the Columbia for families and all community members to be part of the collective effort to restore the Nichols Natural Area.
  • Create bilingual pollution education outreach materials (fact sheets, emails, social media) to connect people to the river and share emerging science on how pollution impacts people, water, and fish.

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