High-school students gather at York U for Change Your World conference

Ice caps are melting, temperatures are climbing and wild storms are now the norm, but the Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) at York University is helping to teach the next generation of students how to change their world for the better.

About 1,000 high-school students will attend the one-day Change Your World conference, designed to inspire youth to become environmentally active citizens. It takes place Oct. 11 from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in Vari Hall for the student workshops and Room 140 Health Nursing & Environmental Studies Building for the teacher workshops on the Keele Campus.

This year’s keynote speech will be given by social justice advocate and Grade 11 Toronto student Sara Escallon-Sotomayor, who believes anyone can get involved and make a difference. She started an online petition to change the Ontario Protecting Students Act to better protect students from abusive teachers, which resulted in a positive change in legislation, and founded Not Just Rumours, a youth-led movement. She is also challenging the provincial government’s plan to repeal the 2015 Sexual Education Curriculum.

In addition to hearing how to make social changes, students will learn about the environment – from Ontario’s only venomous snake, to what happens after an oil spill, to participating in a film project for the United Nations or making dyes and inks from plants used by Anishinaabe people to make simple screen-prints on paper and fabric. Students will have a choice of three out of 20 different workshops, plus one that is mandatory.

All students will participate in the 3% Project workshop, which will help youth identify, analyze and develop solutions to the largest sustainability challenges facing their own communities. It will help empower students to envision and work toward a future they want to see. Through five national tours, the 3% Project will engage 600 high schools, three per cent of youth across Canada, mainly in Indigenous and rural communities.

Students can also learn about organic agriculture, building healthy soils, techniques used by small-scale organic farmers through the Black Creek Community Fairs and why trees are so important in urban settings with the Toronto Park and Tree Foundation.

York U’s Indigenous Environmental Justice Project, led by Canada Research Chair Deborah McGregor, will teach youth about listening to the land and how Indigenous storytelling can point to justice and environmental issues and bring people closer to reconciliation.

Toronto and Region Conservation Authority’s hands-on session will look at microplastics: what they are, why they’re a problem and what’s being done about them.

The day-long event will not only help youth to make a difference, it will show teachers how to incorporate environmental education in their regular classroom throughout the school year. The learning doesn’t end after the conference.