2024 Earth Day and Beyond: Activating Earth Stewardship in New Ways

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Planet vs. plastics. This year’s Earth Day theme provides many opportunities to take action for a healthier planet. Earth Day is a worldwide campaign that began over 50 years ago. This year, Earth Day is April 22, 2024.

We want to go big for Earth Day 2024. Going beyond random acts of conservation on Earth Day, let’s encourage youth to see a brighter future and find a lasting passion for working for the good of the environment. Here are four ideas to spark their interest and create a lifelong love for STEM, an appreciation that they can make a difference, and a pathway to meaningful studies and careers.

1. Support youth voice, choice, and leadership.

Today’s youth are leaders, influencers, and change agents. Let’s listen and learn from them in applying their passion, knowledge, and talents to real-world problems that often have STEM solutions. For example, the Million Girls Moonshot Flight Crew — a group of youth ambassadors, from all 50 states, working to change the national narrative around STEM and inspire their peers nationwide — have used their voices to speak about issues they care about in their community. April 11–14, six Flight Crew members spoke with youth, STEM leaders, and legislators about challenges they care about most, including the environment. Jamora, from Miami Florida, uses her out-of-school learning experiences and expertise in environmental conservation to speak with her peers about their solutions for the future.

The Collective for Youth Empowerment in STEM and Society (CYESS) offers strategies for elevating youth voices and choices. CYESS is a new initiative of the Afterschool Alliance that leverages the afterschool field’s expertise in providing supportive environments for young people, engaging STEM experiences, and opportunities for civic engagement. CYESS supports adults with resources to help them listen and engage. This combination of support for youth and adults can have immense impact.

Read Anita Krishnamurthi’s blog Youth in action: Earth Day blog to learn about programs that support youth voice and empower young people. One of these programs is Careers in Science at the California Academy of Science. By working in the lab, teaching museum visitors, and engaging in community conservation, interns develop the confidence and skills needed to think critically, succeed in the workforce, and serve as informed decision-makers in society. Building on the success of this program, the California Academy of Science created Youth Action for the Planet, an environmental action and leadership program that empowers teens around the world. Working with scientists and leaders in their own communities, youth develop leadership skills as they design and implement conservation, education, and advocacy projects.

Pink sign with wheelchair on it

Photo by Yomex Owo on Unsplash

2. Make Earth Day inclusive in your community.

With planning, we can make Earth Day a unifying experience that brings together everyone to celebrate our planet and work to build a brighter future. We want to ensure that this future is accessible for people with disabilities so let’s make #AccessibleEarthDay more than a hashtag — let’s create an experience that everyone can participate in.

Find partners who can help recruit and support youth and caregivers with disabilities. Extend an invitation to role models who have disabilities to help plan and host activities. They can help dispel stereotypes and show by example how their perspective and experience lead to better solutions to addressing environmental challenges.

The Accessible Earth Toolkit can help make Earth Day events in your area inclusive to all. This toolkit was created by the California Assistive Technology Reuse Coalition. The toolkit offers ideas that include 1) demonstrations of the use of assistive technology devices at Earth Day events and 2) panel discussions with experts on conservation and accessibility. These efforts can help build bridges and partnerships between the disability community and environmentalists, business owners, and school and out-of-school partners.

earth day flier for seminole Okalee

Photo credit: Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum

3. Family engagement is the secret sauce to an impactful Earth Day.

When you ask youth to identify the role models in their lives, they are likely to answer their parents. Caregivers don’t need to be engineers or environmental scientists to champion learning. They support their children with encouragement. What better way to empower caregivers than by making Earth Day a family celebration?

Family events are planned to celebrate Earth Day across the country. We especially like those that celebrate Earth Day, family engagement, and cultural traditions. Here are two to help inspire you. It’s Earth Day the Native Way! hosted by the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum and Seminole Okalee Indian Village showcases Indigenous cultural performances and fun Earth friendly activities. Earth Day Celebration at the Lawrence Hall of Science explores the outdoors using hands-on tools, water coloring in nature, and traditions from Ohlone leaders.

milk cartons growing grass

Photo credit: Science Buddies

4. Stay engaged beyond Earth Day.

Once you’ve created a spark with Earth Day, what’s next? One-off experiences aren’t likely to sustain kids’ interest in environmental science, but there are plenty of STEM programs in which they can further their engagement. You can help build connections between Earth Day and these opportunities, both in the community and online. Promote STEM programs that are accessible by public transportation, free or low cost, and are fun and culturally relevant. Empower families on Earth Day and the days and weeks after to stay involved in projects that improve their communities and the planet.

Share activities that kids can do at home with siblings and caregivers. Promote activities that make use of materials that every household has. Here are some fun and family-friendly ideas for keeping engagement going after Earth Day.

Like Earth Day, Citizen Science helps individual acts contribute to collective impact that improves the world. April is Citizen Science Month. Check out the National Girls Collaborative Project webinar to learn about citizen science projects and understand how girls and other groups historically marginalized in science can benefit from participation in these programs. Citizen Science SciGirls helps families find projects that connect with topics and activities of interest.

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Linda Kekelis. This Earth Day I am planning to participate in a community project with my grandchildren. It is never too early to inspire a future scientist and champion of the environment. I am an advisor for The Family Engagement Project for STEM Next Opportunity Fund. I have devoted my lifetime to supporting families and educators in encouraging youth in STEM. In my life’s work I have supported organizations so that all children have opportunities to find their passion, connect with people that recognize their talent, and gain experiences that lead to happy and productive futures.

Teresa Drew. I am the Deputy Director of STEM Next Opportunity Fund, an organization laser-focused on making out-of-school STEM opportunities a reality for millions of young people to help them thrive in STEM and beyond. We work in all 50 states, placing growing STEM leaders, advancing evidence-based practices and placing big bets, to create a future where every child has STEM opportunities that inspire curiosity, innovation, and the critical thinking skills for whatever comes NEXT.

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