EarthTalk: How can I form an environmental club at school?

Step-by-step advice and helpful websites for starting one.

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    Sixth-graders (left to right) Helen Kesthely, Brian Tran, and Mac Heravian hold the first meeting of Exxel, an environmental club they formed at the Arthur Butler Elementary School in Sacramento, Calif.
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Q: I’m thinking about starting an environmental club in my middle school. Can you give me some ideas about how to start? Can you connect me with other school clubs?
– Rosemary, Andover Township, N.J.

A: Starting an environmental club at school is a great way to get students energized about taking care of the Earth and helping their community while learning about some of the most important issues facing the world in the 21st century.

EarthTeam, a nonprofit environmental network for teens, teachers, and youth leaders, offers many tips on how to start an environmental club.

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First, make sure there are at least a half dozen or so students interested in forming such a club. Then find a teacher, community leader, or parent who is willing to serve as an adult sponsor. The sponsor’s role is to provide advice and help ensure the continuity of the group from year to year. Remember, all the students, even the club founders, will eventually graduate or move on to other interests or endeavors.

Once the core membership and adult sponsor have been established, EarthTeam suggests that everyone sit down together to decide on the club’s vision (“Why are we here?”) and brainstorm about possible activities or projects (“What do we want to accomplish?”). Once these questions have been answered, it’s time to hold the club’s first official meeting, which should be advertised as widely as possible to other students who may be interested in finding out what the group is about and how they can get involved.

The next step, according to EarthTeam, is to write an action plan focused on one group-oriented yearlong project that has measurable benefits to the school or community. It also has to be appealing enough to capture and hold the interest of the student members – who will no doubt be spending long hours volunteering. Whatever project or projects the group decides on, members should develop a timeline that clearly lists goals, dates, and responsibilities.

In addition to undertaking the one major project, clubs can also host or sponsor special events for added visibility. EarthTeam suggests getting students outside for a river or beach cleanup, a tree-planting day, or a field trip to a local wetland, zoo, or nature reserve. Another popular idea is to hold an Environmental Awareness Day to try to educate the entire student body about relevant green issues.

EarthTeam is also a networking platform, so clubs can work together and share experiences with one another to get a sense of the bigger picture, the one beyond an individual school. This is important, given the global nature of most environmental issues.

Another great networking resource is greenspanworld.org, which lists clubs in 21 US states as well as in Australia, Canada, Japan, Ghana, and Malaysia.

The US Environmental Protection Agency’s Student Center website is also a great resource for those starting up school environmental clubs or managing existing ones. It lists dozens of ideas for projects designed to stimulate and enlighten participants while helping the local community. The website also provides links to several partner nonprofit groups with club-worthy activities.

Got an environmental question? Write: EarthTalk, c/o E – The Environmental Magazine, Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881. Or e-mail: earthtalk@emagazine.com.

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