CERES Education Interview with Tom Reddington
National Schools Program Coordinator, AYCC
June 2015

1. How did you first get started with environmental education?

In February 2014, I took on the role of National Schools Program Coordinator at the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC). AYCC’s Switched on Schools program uses a peer-to-peer approach to ignite students’ interest in climate change. Students develop their understanding of sustainability and build skills in change making. They are then connected to a youth leadership network and supported to make meaningful change in their schools, communities and beyond. In 2014, the program engaged over 10,000 students across Australia!

Prior to this I had spent 18 months working for a grassroots child rights NGO based in Ghana. The NGO, Challenging Heights, worked to eradicate child trafficking through empowering communities. I would often travel to child trafficking source communities, along the tropical coastal plain of Ghana’s central region. The crashing Atlantic Ocean, intense green jungle and yellow sun (with the occasional remains of a European slave fort) provided a dramatic background.

Climate Change is regularly talked about by Ghanaians. This is perhaps not surprising in a country where many work in fishing or farming. Increasingly, the dry and wet seasons are becoming less defined – impacting food production. For child trafficking source communities, small reductions in fish and crop yields make many more children susceptible to being trafficked into slavery.

It was this great injustice that motivated me to return to Australia and coordinate AYCC’s Switched on Schools program.

2. What have been the biggest highlights of your journey so far?

Overall the creativity and energy that high school students bring to taking action on climate change has been the highlight. Young people are often dismissed as apathetic, yet when given the opportunity to engage with climate change and take meaningful action, the results are exciting! This has been apparent from working with students in western Melbourne on the perfect compost campaign pitch, to organising youth parliaments in Alice Springs and filming environmental rap videos with students on the Sunshine Coast.

Specific highlights are the journeys that students go on. Elyssa and her team at their school in Western Sydney is a good example of this. Participating in the 2014 Western Sydney Summit was the catalyst for Elyssa’s school to embrace sustainability. After the summit, Elyssa and her fledgling environment team engaged students through a campaign to save the Great Barrier Reef and Pacific Islands from the effects of climate change; speaking in assembly, writing letters to the federal environment minister, collecting clown fish petitions and creating inspiring videos. Elyssa and her team used this as a platform for introducing an individual sustainability points system – run through the house system as a competition – that rewards students taking sustainability actions. Subsequently Elyssa is working with AYCC volunteers to replicate the system across schools in her area.

3. What has been the biggest obstacle? How did you/are you overcoming it?

A challenge has been keeping up ongoing communications with students. After attending a transformative summit students go back to school and get really busy. Often we find that they will be putting their ideas into practice, yet missing out on the support that comes from being part of a network of young change makers across Australia.

In addition to regular meetings and school visits, we have recently launched the new Switched on Schools website (www.switchedonschools.org.au) which facilitates a support network for high school students that are leading climate action across Australia. It provides tools for students to lead their own campaigns. Campaign ideas help direct students to an area of sustainability which they are passionate about. These can range from compost to divestment and anything in between! Students then create their campaign and encourage peers to sign on to show their support. Once support has grown in the school, next-step resources provide guides for students to implement their initiatives.

(Photos: Student meeting with Victorian Senator Kim Carr)

4. What future plans or goals are you excited about?

We are excited about hosting our inaugural climate justice summit in Melbourne on the 16th and 17th of October, 2015. This 2-day event will bring together 200 high school students from across Victoria. A climate justice lens will be used to deepen students’ engagement in sustainability. Students will hear from voices at the frontline of climate change, including First Nation’s peoples, Pacific Islanders and those working in the fossil fuel industry. Students will work with AYCC change makers to develop skills and have an opportunity to send a messages to decision makers to aim higher on climate! Registration is now open and more information can be found on the Switched on Schools website.

We are also organising a national day of high school action across Australia in November 2015. This will coincide with the start of the United Nation’s climate change conference in Paris. The national day of action will provide students with an opportunity to use their creatively to send a message to world leaders for stronger action on climate change. In the lead up students will be collecting sign ups to a national petition and meeting with members of parliament in their local area.

(Photo: Students send a message to save the reef)

5. What advice would you offer to someone wanting to begin a sustainability program at their school or organisation?

Starting small and having obtainable goals are good guiding principles. For high school students however, it is important for “sustainability” not to be limited purely to a local or environmental context. It is important to provide the opportunity to think globally, as well as consider social, cultural, political and economic dimensions. An important part of Switched on Schools’ success is giving students the opportunity to engage decision makers on local, national and global levels. We find that high school students, as young adults, are ever conscious of our inter-connected world and feel compelled to act against global inequalities. They want to meaningfully engage with the challenges that will define their generation and participate actively in the solutions.

CERES Education would like to thank Tom for sharing his story.
Read AYCC’s post on the ‘Switched on Schools’ program find out more.

Also check out:
AYCC’s Sustainability Hub blog page
AYCC’s website, and
the Switched on Schools website

By CERES Education – Outreach Team|2017-11-06T18:25:38+10:00May 31st, 2015|0 Comments