The Power of Student Organizing

by Daniel Tyx

More than 350 people joined the student-organized climate march on September 27. We began the walk from MFS to the public high school in Santa Elena in sunshine, but by the time we were a third of the way up the mountain, we were enshrouded by the typical Monteverde mist. It was a fitting reminder of the imperiled cloud forest we were marching to protect. 

 

The march was inspired by the activism of 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. After learning about the Fridays for Future campaign she started, a group of colegio students wanted to join the worldwide action scheduled to coincide with the UN General Assembly. When they discovered that no march had been planned in Monteverde, they decided to organize their own. With the guidance of Social Studies teacher Pam Holschuh, they secured all the necessary permits, coordinated the participation of students from the public high school and the private Centro de Educación Creativa, and planned a native-tree planting on the grounds of the high school–all in a matter of a few weeks.  

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The colegio teachers quickly developed cross-curricular lessons to support the student organizing. In Social Studies, students studied examples of climate activism around the world, as well as how to navigate cumbersome government bureaucracy. In Science, they examined the physical science basis of climate change, read the scientific literature regarding the effects on the cloud forest, and examined possible solutions; students also acted out a play about climate change for the primary students. In Art, they painted colorful signs on recycled plywood. In my 11/12 English class, students designed media projects to help promote the march, ranging from an Instagram campaign, to videos and podcasts, to an op-ed published in the English-language newspaper The Tico Times. Students in my 9/10 class, who were studying poetry, also composed political poems about climate change.     

 

The day of the march, the students were anxious about how the event would turn out. Soon, though, the soccer field behind the school was filled with students, parents and grandparents, community members, and visiting tourists. As the march proceeded on the road up the mountain, we held umbrellas and homemade signs and chanted ¿Qué queremos? ¡Justicia climática! ¿Cuándo la queremos? ¡Ahora, ahora!     

 

More than four million people participated worldwide in the September climate action. Some 350 of them were here in Monteverde. Although Monteverde is a small town, a journalist who covered the event for a San Jose newspaper told me that it was the largest such action in all of Costa Rica. 

 

The impact of the march continued to be felt even after it ended. As a result of the attention generated by the march, MFS received an invitation to send two students to San José to participate in the PreCOP25, an international summit in preparation for the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which will be held in December in Chile. MFS students Juan Pablo Porras Suarez and Mónica Chinchilla Moreno represented our school during three days of meetings. They met with officials from the UN and many countries, and traded stories and ideas with youth from around the world. Pablo also spoke on a panel about the impact of climate change on adolescents.

 

Reflecting in class about the march, a number of students mentioned feeling important. They felt proud that their voices had been heard, and that their activism had brought so many people from different walks of life together. Most of all, they expressed feeling motivated and prepared to continue organizing at MFS and beyond.