D65 parent climate action team advocates for institutional climate change strategies


Photo courtesy of Sylvia Wooller

District 65 Climate Action Teams during their first meeting of the school year in August 2021. The group hopes to make the district greener from the top down.

Olivia Alexander, Assistant City Editor

One group of Evanston/Skokie School District 65 parents hopes to make the schools greener from the top down.

The District 65 Climate Actions team is a group of parents urging the district to ramp up its response to climate change by taking districtwide steps instead of relying on individual schools to create their own plans.

District 65 parent and architect Sylvia Wooller said she became involved in the group five years ago after meeting Becky Brodsky, who had been working toward climate action for years at the Dr. Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies. She said the Climate Action Teams aim to build on Brodsky’s foundational work and bring environmental efforts to all District 65 schools. 

“We realized that all of us are going to leave our schools at some point,” Wooller said. “(Action) needed to be top down, to be institutionalized, and formalized by the schools.” 

The city completed a waste-reduction training with District 65 custodians over Winter Break. By the end of January, all Evanston/Skokie School District 65 lunchrooms will have waste stations where students can pour out liquids, compost food scraps, recycle containers and return unopened items.

Throughout the past few years, the group has worked on smaller, more manageable action items like switching cafeteria trays from styrofoam to compostable materials, increasing native planting and pollinators, and organizing locker clean-out events to divert waste from landfills. Before the pandemic, the group began lunchroom composting in 12 schools and organized Earth Week in 2019. 

Now, the group is pushing for larger changes, Wooller said. Its number one priority at the moment is for the district to hire a sustainability director, a position which she said would pay for itself because of savings from increased sustainability.

The potential director would meet monthly with the finance committee, research alternative energy sources and ensure all school buildings adhere to plans to lower carbon emissions and reduce fossil fuels. They would also ensure the district curriculum includes climate change at every grade level. 

District 65 parent and Climate Action Teams organizer Marie Cabiya said the current elementary school curriculum does not include any meaningful mention of climate change. 

“We’re big proponents that this should happen in a way that is appropriate for the age group and that is action focused,” Cabiya said. “We really think that action and teaching those kids that they can make a difference is the antidote to climate anxiety.” 

Cabiya said schools can raise students to be environmental stewards, ones who can uphold the commitments outlined in the city’s Climate Action and Resilience Plan. If the city follows the plan outlined by CARP, Evanston will reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Cabiya said climate consciousness should be the lens through which the kids, and the district, see their world. 

Working with district administration helped to expand efforts first led by parents, she added. 

“We are hopeful that we’ll be seeing these initiatives start up not just at the schools where we have interested parents, but that all the schools hear the mandate from the D65 leadership,” Cabiya said. 

Both Wooller and Cabiya said they were thankful for Superintendent Devon Horton’s prioritizing climate action.

Nutrition Services Coordinator Kate Mason-Schultz said she first met Cabiya when she asked to switch from styrofoam to compostable cafeteria trays. Since then, Mason-Schultz said she’s seen a “domino effect” of other actions related to environmental justice. 

“These acts in the lunchroom are tangible things that (kids) do every day,” Mason-Schulz said. “They know that they’re making a difference.” 

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