Center for Environmental Civics Summer Academies

FLORENCE – The way 17-year-old Daniel Kamlarz sees it, he and his peers across the globe must take on the role of the “environmental generation.”

“Our generation is really important,” the Amherst Regional High School junior said, noting that the world’s teens will need to champion the greening of the planet in terms of accessing sustainable fuel and energy sources, just for starters. “There’s not going to be much time for other generations to get a handle on it.”

Kamlarz saw the importance of protecting the planet and creating a sustainable future after attending a summer program in 2012 at the Center for Environmental Civics (CEC) in Amherst.

He and other teenagers across the region said the center taught them not only to advocate for the environment in an articulate way, but also how to stand up for any cause they believe in by using an organized, political process.

Young people around the region will again have an opportunity to learn environmental advocacy this summer as the CEC will hold two week-long summer academies for teens. The first academy will be held at Amherst College, beginning Monday, July 8 and running through Friday, July 12; the second academy will be held at Smith College and will run from Monday, July 22 through Friday, July 26. Both sessions are held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

“Learning how to present my arguments is the key piece I came away with after last summer’s program,” said Mel Devoney, 18, a senior at Amherst Regional High School who is heading to Occidental College in the fall. “Before, I had a lot of opinions about environmental policies, but the CEC taught me how to put them into a 30-second elevator speech and a presentation and make it convincing to others.

“In school, oral communications class didn’t help me with public speaking, but just one week at the CEC helped a lot. It was nice not having to be nervous about speaking in public anymore,” Devoney added.

The Center for Environmental Civics offers training in environmental policy, politics, economics and science through seminars, workshops, institutes and other programs customized to meet the needs of users. It is led by Chris Bathurst, the National Canvass Director for Clean Water Action, and Paul Newlin, a longtime professor of environmental history, policy and politics at Amherst and Smith colleges and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

“The goal of the Center for Environmental Civics is to empower and inspire participants to define and use their own voices, translating environmental concerns into effective civic engagement,” states Newlin.

Newlin said the summer academies are designed for current high school juniors or seniors, however, other students may apply if they submit a recommendation from one of their current teachers, preferably a history or science teacher.

Last year, the first year the summer academies were offered, student activities included choosing an actual environmental bill that was pending in the state Legislature to support. They researched their bills in teams and developed an advocacy campaign, which included promoting the environmental agenda on Facebook and culminated in pitching their ideas to state Rep. Ellen Story and state Sen. Stan Rosenberg in a mock lobbying session organized by the CEC.

None of the bills supported by the students actually passed, which was also a good lesson for students.

“We learned general knowledge and perspective, so I now know I can’t just lobby for a bill and be all idealistic about it,” said Devoney. “We have to have small goals and know there are more steps we have to go through for each one.”

All the students who attended last year’s CEC academy are members of environmental clubs at their respective schools, and each of them plans to include environmental studies in their academic focuses in college.

Alexis Foley of Whately, 16, a junior at Frontier Regional high School in South Deerfield, said the experience she gained at CEC helped her lobby this year to raise funds for the purchase and installation at her school of a Stryker chair – used for helping students who use wheelchairs to get from floor to floor.

The knowledge was also put to work in a toy and school supply drive she organized for children in the Dominican Republic. Foley lobbied church and school leaders and received enough donations to fill her Jeep Cherokee four times.

“I had to follow a process to promote it,” she said. “I had to get OKs. Advertise it.”

These are skills that CEC leaders taught her.

Simon Elliott of Amherst, a 17-year-old junior at Amherst Regional High school, is still putting his environmental knowledge to work, continuing to promote a reissue of the bill he supported at the academy – House Bill 2935, an act to transition to a clean energy commonwealth.

Working as part of his high school’s Environmental Action Club as the leader of its lobbying group, Elliott is petitioning in support of the bill. He led a letter-writing campaign to legislators, has been in touch with the bill’s sponsors and was invited to the Legislative hearing on the topic, which has yet to be scheduled.

“The CEC academy definitely started all that,” he said.

This summer’s academies are designed to accommodate approximately 20 students, so early applications are encouraged. Admission is on a first-come, first-served basis.

The cost of a week-long academy is $275; a $75 deposit holds a space. For more information, visit, email or call 413-665-3741.
Photo Courtesy of MattWalker69 via Flickr.