The Hope in Action conference is an opportunity for 4th graders in Eugene, Oregon to learn about sustainability with hands-on workshops, speakers, dialogue and inspirational speakers. It is offered by Partners for Sustainable Schools, a 501 c (3) non profit organization in Eugene, Oregon.

Hear from the Executive Director, Mel Bankoff, numerous presenters and Karen – the interviewer – (who was also a presenter at the conference) about the reasons behind this movement, what is taught and learned, and how it takes a village to empower children to be creative, responsible leaders.

Transcription

Hope In Action Conference 2017

Transcript by Jade Rainsong

 (Karen:) “Sustainable living, recycling and waste reduction. These are just some of the things the fourth graders are learning here today at the Hope in Action onference in Eugene at the Eugene Faith Center. It’s April 2017 and hundreds of fourth graders are convening upon the Faith Center to take part in workshops and classes all day long taught by everything from Gray’s Garden Center to Seeds of Peace, and Healthy Bees Healthy Gardens. Stay tuned and hear more.”

(Stuart:) “Yeah, hi. I’m Stuart Letin with Gray’s Garden Center. And today we’re going to be working on parts of plants that we actually eat and that comes in the form of a salad. We’re going to be looking at five main parts of a plant from the seeds to the flower the stems the roots and what parts of those that we eat when we actually eat a salad.”

(Karen:) “And so what we have here on this long table in the cafeteria part of the church are a whole bunch of bowls that have a really colorful mix of all kinds of things in them like celery, broccoli. I see corn, some seeds. So these are all laid out and ready for the kids. They’re each going to get one and tell us what they do with it.”

(Stuart:) “Yeah, we’re going to have a little chart where they’re going to pull out the certain parts of the plant and that we’re going to label them so they can see which part of the plant they’re actually eating and maybe even vote on which one tastes the best.”

(Karen:) “All right. And do you think that the kids will will know already pretty easily what some of these things are. Do you think this will be a new experience for some of them?”

(Stuart:) “I definitely think it’ll be a new experience for some of them, you know they’re kids so they can only eat so many vegetables…”

(Karen:) “Right, a lot of mac and cheese.”

(Stuart:) “Yes,  hopefully an idea when they’re looking at things they eat and plants, you know, different parts and really the environment as a whole is how they grow them and what’s the more common trend here is knowing what you eat which means growing that and the products that you apply to get these kind of edible things that you were the one in control of what’s being put onto them and then you’re also the one that’s able to have the nutrients and the flavor and the value of that, once it’s ready to eat”

(Karen:) “So sounds like the message is about not just where our food comes from but also growing it in a way that makes the best food possible for us.”

(Stuart:) “Absolutely.”

(Karen:) “So Julie is one of the presenters here today at the Hope in Action Conference. Tell us a little bit about what your workshop is for these fourth graders.”

(Julie:) “I work with kids to help them understand how decisions, big decisions about planning neighborhood planning and transportation happen. There’s a challenge for youth to have their voice in how decisions happen. So what we do is I have a little activity where kids get to plan their neighborhood, their vision for how they would love to have their house and where they can walk and what kids come up with is really really different from how they live and where they live right now. I have the exciting opportunity to send these visions of neighborhood to decision-makers in Eugene and remind them that this is the vision of youth.”

(Karen:) “What’s the deeper take away for the kids here? What’s the underlying kind of mission of why you do this with the kids?”

(Julie:) “To empower kids to realize that they have a stake in their future of how their community is going to look and feel and how their everyday environment quality of life is impacted by some of the decisions that are made by electeds in Eugene and how they can affect that process by creating a vision.”

(Karen:) “So right here on the floor I see in this room. You’ve got pretty low tech setup. It looks like you’ve got a pizza box that’s opened. Of course new clean one and you’ve got some cut out pieces of construction paper and different shapes. You’ve got some green and some blue. Like it could be water, grass, some some strips that look like they could be sidewalk.”

(Julie:) “Yep, and I got some Legos there. So what the kids first do is they’re like, oh they know how to they know how to build Legos and the Legos can be houses. They can be stores. They can be schools. And so they get to set up where they live and then what they want around them. So some kids choose like a super natural environment.

And the first thing that they do is they they lay out the ponds and the green stuff which is the forest and then they they fit things around that and other kids think about how you get around. And so they’ll set up the streets. Then I got these long black strips that are bike lanes or larger ones that are actually for cars and they’ll set up, you know, like their little street network and then they’ll fit things around that so super interesting to see how differently people think and how they craft their vision.”

(Julie:) “When I first started this I was amazed by the creativity. That came out of the simple little exercise of strips of paper and color and Legos and I took pictures of them and sent them to City Council. Like hey, this is what youth are thinking about. This is how they envision their neighborhood  in the future. So little little steps, baby steps to create democracy and have youth express their voice is so important”

(Karen:) “Mel Bankoff is the Executive Director and founder of Partners for Sustainable Youth in Eugene, Oregon. I caught up with him at the Hope In Action Conference in 2017 in Eugene to find out more about what they’re doing.”

(Bangkok:) “I founded the organization in 2007. Having two young kids and realizing that they’re not necessarily learning in school the kinds of skills and awareness they need to have in order to be participating in creating a healthier planet that the educational system is a little antiquated not necessarily looking into the future in the kind of needs and the world these kids are going to  inherit. The school’s learn pretty much what it was that I learned when I was in school.

Partners for Sustainable Schools got started with the idea that youth has a powerful role in shaping the world that we’re in because they are ultimately our future and we as adults need to take responsibility for giving them the appropriate tools to be able to adapt in the world. I think the one thing that we constantly speak about in the classroom with the youth is that everything in this world that we live in is interconnected.

 So each action each thought has an impact and the more we realize it, the more responsible we can be with our thoughts and actions.”

(Karen:) “Jen Hornaday is  bright, lively and on fire with energy about what she’s teaching the kids here at the conference. She’s all about healthy bees and healthy gardens.”

(Jen:) “So we’ve got a whole bunch of fourth graders here today at Hope In Action that’s been very exciting. We had three groups of children for 40 minutes each and I’m teaching them about making smart choices for a healthy environment for all the people, pets, plants and pollinators because they’re all super important to us.

 So I have a PowerPoint presentation with lots of pictures of the honeybees and the hives and different flowers and we talked about pollination why the pollinator is important. And it’s not about how many honeybees we have here in the city of Eugene was how we can all make smart choices for our future and so they’re all really getting it and I teach in the waggle dance and we do some physical get up and dance and wiggle our bodies and it’s super fun to watch.”

(Karen:) “So you learn a lot about bee culture and how bees actually talk to each other and communicate and so they’re learning some of the science as well as some other things.”

(Jen:) “Yeah. So it’s really fun because they you see a lot of light bulbs go off in their head and and then they get to learn why they’re you know important and not just about the pollination for the fruit and the very beginning because the flowers and the fruit will flower early and after the bees pollinate it then they will get a present of very special presence of fruit or berries, but things like kale and broccoli and mizuna lettuce like those lettuces they flower at the end of their cycle, so they’re also learning that’s really important to be able to leave some of those flowers in the plants at the end of the vegetable cycles so that they can go back and be able to create a nice healthy seed so that we can have a non-GMO plant be able to go right back on the ground after this.”

(Karen:) “So tell me about this organization. Did you found it? And what made you start it? And how long have you been doing it?”

(Jen:) “Well, my partner brought home a bee tree and there were bees living in this tree. And so I just had to learn how to take care of these. So I went to Glory Bee and I got some parts and pieces and then I went to Lane County bee Association in Eugene and you can learn… Every single month There will be class that you can take to be able to learn about them. And that’s super helpful. So I started learning about that and then took more classes, and I learned how to put everything together and start learning to care for them. This is going on my seventh year now and remember the bees never read the books.

So no matter what you read in a book is not necessarily the case and one hive is very different from the other just like the children learned today that different honey’s taste different. It’s not clover honey. Like a lot of my honeys. I’ve got award-winning honey and I won 9 out of 12 ribbons last year at the fair, but they every single plant that that bee goes to will add a different flavor to that honey.”

(Unknown:) “I feel many times that. Our generation of adults and our parents generation were unaware of the impacts that we had in our day-to-day life, but that sort of changed over the last 25 years as we realize we live in a finite Universe of resources. We don’t necessarily apply that in how we look at education today and it doesn’t matter if we’re studying history or if we’re studying mass or if we’re studying science there needs to be a deeper understanding of our relationship with the planet.”

(Teresa:) “I’ve been involved with Hope In Action since its Inception and I have been teaching this assortment of games cooperative games that we use in our trainings with kids. It’s our Seeds of Peace peer mediation trainings. So we’re teaching fourth and fifth graders the art of mediation and solving conflicts in a nonviolent creative constructive way.”

(Karen:) “That was Terese Picado of Seeds of Peace peer mediation training. She’s one of the presenters here at the conference and her space to teach the kids is kind of an open breezeway  down some stairs and through a hall. She’s got a circle of chairs set up where she leads these programs and workshops.”

(Teresa:) “We primarily work through the schools. But what we are always so gratified to see how it envelops their entire life. So they go home. That’s a two-day training generally and we hear this date in day two that they started to practice paraphrasing and active listening and asking questions and probing and getting the facts and the feelings and and the needs and and they’re practicing this amongst their friends and their siblings and their parents, but certainly in the school setting as well.”

(Karen:) “How long have you been doing this and how did it get started?”

(Teresa:) “We started just after the Thurston shooting. So that was the impetus for bringing this program to children. And our the idea was we really wanted to inculcate young children with these skills. And and so that they would have a different frame of reference a different paradigm for dealing with conflict.

 So we started that and started teaching cadres of 4th and 5th graders mediation. What we did was we did this exercise where they had a partner and first of all, they close their eyes and they rub their hands together and they felt that energy in their hands and experience that and then they turn to their partner and felt that energy bubble with their partner not touching hands, but just experiencing that exchange of energy and then really focusing on that person making eye contact experiencing the energy. And they did the mirroring exercise where one person as this beautiful dance, so one person might lead the other person follows and creates a mirror like pattern and then we switched and then we did another exercise where one row that the part one row would freeze in a position the other row. I would watch them, you know would analyze them and then they would turn their backs and they would change three things and then the idea was how many things did you notice had changed about your partner? So again really trying to cultivate those skills of keen observation and focusing on the people in conflict and and gathering so much information about what’s going on beyond what they may be saying and we talked about the language of feeling so I we did one exercise about what we feel comfortable with our private space, right?

So we did an exercise where a child would stand and then I approach them and I ask them to tell me when do you want me to stop tell me when to stop when do you not feel comfortable whenever you have space that and so that was really interesting and then they were able to read how that person was feeling as I started to invade their space their private bubble.

 I hope that they feel empowered to practice these skills of empathy of listening of watching of observing of giving supportive input or feedback, especially that first group. There was the particular bond you don’t always recreate that but they seem to be really on board and they were able to integrate it and even if they just take that away like that particular group, we focused on nonverbal communication.

But they were all quite skilled at it and you could just see the empathic aptitude. And so we talked about empathy and they knew what that word was. And so if they go home and they practice greater kindness, greater empathy, greater ability to connect. And focus on one another like wow, that’s an incredibly valuable lesson.”

(Karen:) “The scene is wild chaos in the main hall of the church as the kids dance and sing to some local music. Celebrating creativity, sustainability, connection and community… and having fun.”

Partners for sustainable schools also offers a 10-week series for kids in the fall and the spring at their classrooms where they can learn more about recycling e-waste. Organic gardening and a sustainable future and how they can be a part of the solution.