On Sunday, September 21, two dozen Common Ground students, staff, and parents joined over 400,000 other change makers marching through the streets of New York City — drawing attention to the impact of global climate change, and demanding solutions. The call was echoed around the globe, with 2,646 solidarity events happening in 162 countries around the world.

Common Ground Environmental Leadership Coordinator Sarah Tracy-Wanck, who organized the group, explained that this march sparked the students’ interests because “it focused on the climate justice angle…on understanding the disproportionate impact climate change has on the poor, on people of color and indigenous communities.”

Student Jon Deynes’ reflections on the march speak to this interest in climate justice and stressed communities: “I was marching for awareness of fracking, deforestation, rising sea levels, and land grabbing.  I was marching to fight climate change in low income communities that take the longest to recover, and are sometimes regarded as less of a priority.”

For Common Ground, joining in the march was one expression of a commitment that every student grow into a powerful environmental and community leader. Sarah observed, “Common Ground students are tuned into what is going on, through our environmental leadership program and classwork that engages real world issues. Many are looking for ways to show up and find their identities as change agents.” This landmark march was a great opportunity to harness that energy and bring our students a new, engaging way to learn and lead. 

The day started at 7:15 in the morning, when students gathered at New Haven’s Union Station to get their train tickets, which were donated by the Interreligious EcoJustice Network. The day before, as students gathered to make t-shirts, they got excited about the upcoming march with a discussion of climate change and its impact. That discussion picked up where it left off on the train ride to the city, continuing through the march and the whole ride home.

“One of the things that impressed me so much,” says Sarah, “is how the students never lost energy or focus. For the entire 12 hour day they were completely engaged.” The Common Ground group found a spot in the section of the march called, “Frontlines of Crisis, Forefront of Change.” They danced with Hare Krishnas and marched to drums of Aztec people protesting the eradication of their land and culture. They engaged with people from all around the world, hearing their stories and, through these interactions, found more ways to verbalize their own reasons for participating.

“We were all marching for different reasons, but we were all marching for change,” says Jon Deynes. “This was significant for me because I never participated in a march before. I always wanted to act against things like police brutality and species extinction, but never thought I’d be into doing a peaceful march. Next time I hear about a march I’m more likely to participate in it, or even start my own.”

Students joined labor union members’ chants, and composed some of their own. They saw Leonardo DiCaprio and Mayor de Blasio marching down the street. At the end of the route, they experienced performances and history lessons at the People’s Power Stage. “They came to understand the connections this has with our history and the current events they hear about. They realized they were living an important part of our history, at that very moment, by being there,” notes Sarah.

Student Lisandra Lopez found the experience to be “life-changing,” saying, “It made look at the world differently…[to realize] how we need to treat this world with respect. It made me see how people can come together and fight for what they want.”

Common Ground is proud of all the powerful young leaders who spent their day at this historical event — Moshema Hull, Maygan Brooks, Janet Sakouvogui, Jon Deynes, Jesus Reyes, Nate Wilson, Edaisha Little, Lisandra Lopez, Aaliyah Barrett, Aridyan Perez, Marcel Aguirre, Taylor Pauls, Shantel Ratchford, Malenky Welsh, Jordan Lahert-Harkless, Ted Brooks, and Nyasia Mercer — grateful for the committed staff, parents, and community members who made it possible: Kerry Ellington, Jeremy Stone, Meredith Odinak, Julie Sharp, Tim Dutcher, Michelle Welsh, Jennifer Lahert, Michelle Eckman, and Sarah Tracy-Wanck.

What’s next? In their written reflections, many students — like Jon and Lisandra — say the march galvanized them to take additional action at the community level, and convinced them that they could step up as environmental leaders. A number of these students say they plan to include their reflections on the march in the electronic portfolio that shows their growth as leaders over time — a Common Ground graduation requirement. And Common Ground is partnering with Michelle Eckman — Education Director at Connecticut Audubon, and a Community Climate Change Fellow — to build curricula on climate change into a variety of Common Ground courses. We will look for opportunities to share the results of our school’s climate change work — including resources for other schools, developed by Michelle and our teachers — in the coming year.

Check out this recap video on the People’s Climate March page to see more — and please share your thoughts on how our community can continue to work for climate justice by leaving a comment below.