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How to Make a Difference

New York student environmental club takes action

By Alexis Wiseman | April 20 , 2009
Matt Brumback changes lights at the Collegiate School in New York City. (Photo courtesy CENIC)
Matt Brumback changes lights at the Collegiate School in New York City. (Photo courtesy CENIC)

Students around the country are organizing environmental clubs to take action to improve their environment. All of these student environmental groups shout one big message: it doesn’t matter how old you are, you can take action to change your community. How would you like to learn how to start an environmental club to help your community?

Based in New York City, the Collegiate School started its environmental club, CENIC, in 2006. CENIC (Collegiate with the Environment Naturally In Check) is making Collegiate a greener school. They signed on with an energy company to purchase 100 percent of its electricity from wind power sources. That move prevented the emission of 385 tons of greenhouse gases.

They installed more efficient fluorescent lights and a waterless urinal that saves 28,000 gallons of water and a large amount of electricity. CENIC successfully campaigned for using 100 percent recycled paper and expanded bottle and can recycling in the school. They worked with the Environmental Defense Fund to get New York City to enforce stricter fuel efficiency standards for more than 13,000 taxis.

Harrison Monsky, co-President of CENIC and a National Student Coordinator of the Green Schools Alliance, talked with Scholastic News recently about how the group works to conserve.

Scholastic News Online: What was the hardest thing you accomplished?
Harrison Monsky: Last year we moved the school to 100 percent green electricity. In order to do that, we found a company that was an electricity supplier that specialized in renewable energy windmills.

SNO: What was the most impactful change you accomplished?
Harrison: We changed the community a lot by acting to make the school use more sustainable sources of energy. Our school is a k-12 school so to do this you have to involve the entire community. When we moved to wind power, we put up posters everywhere. We had a big assembly for all different parts of the school where we talked about what the move meant. Seniors went into classes of lower school students to read stories of what happens if you don’t think about the future and you only think about today.

SNO: How did you handle any controversy that came about because of some of your decisions?
Harrison: There’s going to be controversy whenever a change is made, especially at our school because there are over 600 people with different opinions and competing viewpoints. You have to stick to what you think is right, because most of the time if you’re willing to do the work change will happen.

SNO: How do you research your proposals? How do you decide about which green choices to make?
Harrison: Some are easy to see. For the lighting project we saw how wasteful the lights were. Another way is through conferences where we bring together green companies and schools.

SNO: What simple things can any kid do to help make their communities greener?
Harrison: Make sure you’re not wasting electricity. It’s amazing how much you can waste just by leaving the lights on. Use public transportation—less cars on the road reduces carbon pollution that contributes to global warming.

As you can see, taking action to make a change to your community doesn’t mean you have to be an adult. Student environmental activists like Harrison show us that kids can make a difference and lead the way.

Tips for starting your own environmental club

  1. Start small. A group of five committed people is a good start. If you do a project really well more people will want to join. CENIC now has 40 members!
  2. Create a list of goals. What do you want your work to accomplish?
  3. Call local environmental groups to see how you can get help with current projects.
  4. Make sure everybody has a job.
  5. Recruit help from teachers to be advisers and make sure the school building facility manager is on board.

Tips for Success

  1. Stay motivated by staying focused on the positive changes you are making.
  2. Determination is critical for working through challenges.
  3. Organization is important to make sure people work together.
  4. Partner with other club members, clubs and companies to get things done.

Useful Links for your environmental club


Celebrate 40 years of Earth Day and the fight to keep our planet clean on April 22. Scholastic Kid Reporters explore ways to make every day Earth Day in the Earth Day @ 40 Special Report.


Get the latest on national and international events, movies, television, music, sports, and more from the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.


About the Author

Alexis Wiseman is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.

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