Standing Up For What We “Bee”lieve In

Middle schoolers often get a bad rap. When you walk our middle school halls there is an unbridled energy that you can choose to see as frenetic, but you can also choose to see what is really there: joy and connection and childhood on the cusp of that next step–that next step that requires such courage and tenacity. 

Our middle schoolers are always reminding us of why we should see them as the full people they are now as well as those they are becoming. The middle school students of the Environmental Action Club (EAC) and the Student Committee Affirming Quaker Values (SCAQV) came together to stand up for a value they strongly believe in–environmental stewardship. Once again, they showed us what powerful, dedicated people and citizens they are in this world. 

Posted June 2017

“Bee”ing the Change
The EAC students studied how neonicotinoids affect bees, which in turn affects our crops and our food. EAC students educated children in the lower school about bees, how they are threatened, and what that means for our food and our environment. As part of their lesson about bees, they made bee antennae out of pipe cleaners with the lower school students. The students encouraged and coordinated school participation in the March for Science, and FSMN marchers wore their bee antennae.

“Neonicotinoids are bad for bees. They impair their larval development, communication, foraging behavior, and homing ability. Usually, after a while, the bees get sick and die,” said Kiera, seventh grader at Friends School of Minnesota. “We can help bees by not using neonicotinoids and by planting bee-friendly plants.”

Living Our Values
Concurrently, the SCAQV, a committee started after the election to think about how students can advocate for their values, was studying how they can speak up and make a difference in our democracy. They visited each classroom and talked about how students can take action to stand up for their values. They were inspired to take action after a Skype conference with the Friends Committee on National Legislation and after watching a video of congressman Keith Ellison talking about what people can do to influence their legislators.

The two committees saw an opportunity to work together to advocate for pollinators. They gathered over 900 signatures at the annual Friends School Plant Sale from customers who believe in this cause. The students did their research on pollinators and learned some ways to drive change in our democracy, then decided to take their argument to the FSMN School Committee and the Minnesota State Capitol. 

First, they met with the school committee to ask them to sign a pollinator protection letter in support of legislation being considered at the state capitol.

Jeannette Lutter-Gardella, assistant head of school, called legislators to request a meeting. In both her message to legislators and when talking to our students, she stressed that youth are citizens from the time they are born–citizens with rights. Their presence and their voice matter. 

“I wanted to go to the Capitol because I believe that it is important for us to protect our environment. We can’t recreate it. We only have this one chance. We can’t mess it up,” said Griffin, seventh grader at Friends School of Minnesota. “I was nervous about going to the Capitol, but I was also really excited. I know that going there is the most direct way to get something accomplished.”

“I wanted to go to the Capitol because I believe that it is important for us to protect our environment. We can’t recreate it. We only have this one chance. We can’t mess it up,”

–Griffin, seventh grader at Friends School of Minnesota. 

The Trip to the Capitol
Students met with State Representative Hamilton, a chair of the agriculture finance committee, 

and expressed their concerns about the use of neonicotinoids. They explained that bees are essential to agriculture and that at least one-third of the food on our plates is there because of bees. They gave facts about the economic impact of losing bee colonies at the rate we are losing them. Representative Hamilton asked questions and engaged in a thoughtful discussion with the students. At the end of the meeting he said to them, “Thank you. I have learned some things today.”

Students returned to school thinking about what other short-term and long-term actions they could take to advocate for pollinators. In the short term, they asked their friends and family to call or email Representative Hamilton to express support for the legislation.

“This advocacy is being led by our children,” said Steve Moe, middle school math and science teacher at Friends School of Minnesota. “They have done a lot of research and have worked very hard to speak out about the harm that is being done to our environment. We are incredibly proud of how they are living their values, or as Quakers say, ‘letting their lives speak.’ It gives us such hope as a community to see these children in action.”

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