Park Avenue Elementary School educator and One World afterschool club adviser Jennifer Carriero-Dominguez leads students in discussion about how to reduce a carbon footprint at their Wednesday, Jan. 8, meeting.
Victoria Bresnahan|Westmore News
Park Avenue Elementary School educator and One World afterschool club adviser Jennifer Carriero-Dominguez leads students in discussion about how to reduce a carbon footprint at their Wednesday, Jan. 8, meeting. Victoria Bresnahan|Westmore News

A call to action has been made by the youth of the world to combat climate change, and the Port Chester School District has responded.

Park Avenue Elementary School students worked on a project that successfully made the district the first in the U.S. to be named carbon neutral as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat’s Climate Neutral Now initiative.

The act calls upon organizations, governments and citizens to measure their carbon footprint, reduce it and offset their own emissions by purchasing Certified Environmental Reduction credits to benefit green projects in Third World countries.

With the One World program, students selected UNFCCC projects and raised money to reduce or eliminate emissions for them.

The One World program, which has 100 active clubs in schools across the world, aims to teach youth perspective about the world and how it can be bettered. The UN’s 17 sustainable development goals to accomplish by 2030 are used as the foundation for the lessons students are being taught.

“It’s just a part of who (the students) are as a global citizen,” Park Avenue educator and One World adviser Jennifer Carriero-Dominguez said. “We are always helping make our fellow humans better and our world better.”

The journey to carbon neutral

Two years ago, principals from One World organizations across the world met in Port Chester and signed the Climate Neutral Now pledge.

“Step two is you measure your carbon footprint,” One World Executive Director Douglas French said. “They measured with the facilities and finance manager and they got what is the energy output that the (schools do) and the oil output. Essentially, they figure out how much they are using on an annual basis.”

Carriero-Dominguez said they originally thought they could offset by recycling enough water bottles to reduce their carbon footprint.

“We thought, well let’s start by reducing our water bottle intake because that was something simple and we could measure it in our water fountains,” she said, “Then, when we found out how much it was (and we discovered) it would take us a very long time to do that, so that’s (when we found out) the United Nations through their website offers offset.”

Through the website, they used One World fundraising money to invest into a project in a developing country so their emissions would be reduced to a level that offsets what Port Chester schools are producing.

“The first step is understanding how much you are using and then to offset it with purchase offsets,” French said. “Then through that, the kids learn behavioral offsets. Walking to school, eating all the food on their plate, don’t use single use plastic bags and straws.”

The district’s offsetting is done through buying Certified Emissions Reduction credits.

“The CERs are available for everyone to purchase to offset emissions or in support of the projects,” states a press release about the carbon neutral accomplishment. “The full contributions go directly to the projects. Port Chester raised money to support projects listed from the UNFCCC certified projects that reduce, avoid or remove greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere.”

Going forward, the club intends to make 100 One World schools across the globe carbon neutral.

“We want to continue that this is worthy and worthwhile, and this is how we are going to save the world. We are not just saying this just to say it,” Carriero-Dominguez said. “It’s an actual commitment and our students are the benefit of it.”

Future generations are more environmentally friendly

In a decade, the club has gone from a sole group at Edison Elementary School to expanding across the district. Two years ago, the lessons taught through the club were brought into the classrooms as early as kindergarten.

“It’s not just 20 kids in an afterschool club,” French said. “Now, it’s throughout the school day where you can cut across English, science, math, social studies a topic like this.”

During one of the program’s meetings, Carriero-Dominguez was impressed by how much they had learned since joining the club. They knew about the wildfires that ravaged Australia, the animals facing extinction and how climate change is affecting the planet.

“This generation of kids, they grew up always having environmental and natural disasters,” Carriero-Dominguez said. “It was rare when I was young to have such turmoil on our earth. It makes our kids very mindful of how they are going to fix these problems.”

They proved this to be true as a sea of small hands flashed up in the corner of a Park Avenue School classroom to answer a question about sustainability during the meeting. The 13 third- and fourth-graders that compose the school’s afterschool club spent most of the gathering highlighting all the ways to reduce a carbon footprint.  

“Turn off the lights,” one student said.

“When you are brushing your teeth, don’t leave the faucet on,” another suggested.

“Take less time using your shower,” one added.

The group utilizes the UN’s sustainable development goals as a model to follow. The 17 aspirations are the UN’s foundation for creating a more sustainable future globally by the year 2030.

“We know our sustainable development goals are things such as no poverty, zero hunger, helping life on land, helping life in water, climate action,” Carriero-Dominguez said to the club members. “We are doing a lot to help climate action.”

Carriero-Dominguez said the group is doing the work of the Paris Agreement, which is a UNFCCC agreement many countries made to fight back against climate change.

“The kids are doing the work and we are learning from them,” she said.

The program reaches a whole new level of impact when the children interact with other One World schools, such as in China, Mexico, Wales and several other locations. French said they learn how the small changes they make in Port Chester make a difference on a broader level across the world.

When Carriero-Dominguez was in high school, she said she did not expect the world to be battling climate change. The future generations, however, are preparing for the problems that may arise in the coming years.

“They are just used to solving problems and being proactive about it.”