October 8, 2017, was a typical fall day in Sonoma County. That evening was an exciting one at our school: a large audience filled the amphitheater for the final performance of Romeo and Juliet and the next day our new Commons was scheduled to open for lunch for the first time. During the performance, the wind was kicking up as the sun went down. A few hours later, our county faced a life-altering disaster. Many of our current and alumni families and staffulty lost their homes, and our community was forever changed. Over 1,500 children and 400 educators in the North Bay lost their homes in the fires that broke out that night.
While the climate crisis is relevant to every community, it is undeniable that our students have been uniquely affected by climate disasters. According to testimony
from Sonoma County District Superintendent, Steve Herrington, “students in the area are still experiencing the aftermath of the mental health, social and academic effects after the fire. There is a significant increase in fear, anxiety, and the near inability to navigate through changes and ‘unknown’ situations. Kids are exhibiting far more ‘giving up’ than ever seen prior to 2017.” A number of Sonoma Academy student activists are leaning into this existential fight, becoming leaders taking meaningful action on climate change.
In 2020, Schools for Climate Action students started discussing legislation with Rep. Mike Thompson (CA-5). The students saw a need for Congress to address the mental health impacts of the climate crisis on youth, which are a particularly vulnerable population to the impacts of climate-related disasters.. After two years of research, writing, revisions, and collaborations, House Resolution 975
was introduced into the 117th Congress. H.Res.975 is the first piece of federal legislation linking mental health to the climate crisis and was co-authored by Madigan Traversi ‘23 and Giselle Perez ‘23. H.Res.975 calls for funding school districts in communities experiencing the aftermath of climate-related disasters, incorporating mental health resources into existing disaster preparation efforts, expanding place-based mutual-aide networks focusing on youth mental health resources.
Sonoma Academy students secured 90 organizational endorsements and organized months of virtual congressional meetings to collect co-sponsorships. Then, on September 18, Giselle Perez '23, Madigan Traversi '23, Izzy Weaver '23, Lily Gelb '24, and Talulah Juniper, '23 traveled to Washington DC to lead Schools for Climate Action’s first in-person Climate Advocacy Summit since 2019. On September 21, they brought together a large coalition of students and parents at the Capitol in order to meet with over 70 congressional offices from both sides of the aisle advocating for co-sponsorship of H.Res.975.
A highlight of the trip was working with the 8th grade class from the Park School of Baltimore, where Assistant Head of School Rommel Loria started his teaching career. Schools for Climate Action students traveled to Park to host an advocacy training with the middle schoolers before leading them in groups through their first day of congressional meetings. While meeting with representatives to acquire support for H.Res.975, student advocates shared personal stories of experiences with climate-related disasters and the overall impact of climate anxiety on their lives. Reflecting on the day on the Hill, Madigan writes: “I loved how empowered the students felt as they articulated their emotions about the climate crisis.”
Lily Gelb ‘24 notes that working with younger students who were close to their age felt especially meaningful: “They really look up to us,” she says. “We were able to show them that they also have power, and that the people who work in government are actually human, and that with planning and organization, they are actually accessible to you. Many kids (and adults too, for that matter) don’t realize that it is possible to really talk to these people, and make a difference.”
Mike Thompson and his team have been essential to elevating youth voices in climate policy and his staff were amazing and supportive hosts while the group was in DC. On September 22 Rep. Thompson, Rep. Kathy Castor (FL), Rep Troy Carter, (LA), Rep Mike Levin (CA) joined Schools for Climate Action’s Madigan and Giselle as featured speakers at a press conference on H.Res.975. To view the press conference in its entirety, please click here
for a collection of photos.
At the press conference, Rep. Mike Thompson said, “Our young people need support to be resilient as they face today’s increasing climate disasters and ultimately take on the issue of fighting for climate justice. I am so proud of Madigan and Giselle for their leadership and advocacy on this issue, and I am honored to introduce this resolution in support of all youth concerned about climate change.”
Co-author of H.Res.975, Giselle Perez says, “Partnering with lawmakers to write and introduce legislation on youth mental health- and the fact that it's the first time congress has put these ideas together- shows the need to include youth voices in policy-making. It is our future being decided in these halls, so it is imperative youth voices are heard.”
Nancy Metzger-Carter, Campaign Director of Schools for Climate Action and STEM/Humanities teacher, writes, “This week, on the five year anniversary of the Tubbs Fire, I am reflecting on the fire’s mental health effects on our community, and the fire’s destabilizing impact on our sense of place, our sense of home. Over the last four years, I’m proud SA has provided students with an opportunity to advocate for their future. We are grateful for Sonoma Academy’s continued commitment to elevating youth voices in climate policy and supporting climate education. Thank you to the teachers, parents, and alumni who have continued to support our work by providing the time, skills, and space for the Schools for Climate Action students to work on their campaigns. I’m proud to say that our students have had an impact beyond the walls of our school, into classrooms and congressional offices across the country. But, we’re not as serious as you think; true to the SA spirit, in the midst of a whirlwind trip we also made sure we had time to reflect, collaborate, share food, and laugh during a rooftop sunset.”
The five students on the trip have advice for others who would like to get involved. “Many people don’t realize that they can affect real change, even though they are under 18 and can’t even vote yet,” says Talulah. “Kids have a lot of desire to do this.”
Izzy adds, “That is the goal: to share our resources with as many people and organizations as we can, and work together. It is rewarding and inspiring to see how excited other kids are about doing this work, and to see how the staffers and representatives really listen to the kids.”
We think good movement organizing includes having a call-to-action for our supporters so: so here’s one for our community! Use this link
to send a quick thank you note to our local Reps (Rep Huffman and Rep Thompson) for supporting our students and this resolution. Then, share the link with with friends and family out of the area—the link will send a quick email to their member of congress requesting support for the resolution.