Shortly after the third period buzzer Friday, a green-clad group of Bronx High School of Science students — about 100 strong — burst through the school’s front door.
At front was Johanna Neggie, armed with a megaphone and leading chants as the mass crossed the school courtyard.
“Make schools green!” they shouted.
The teens gathered at Harris Field. Standing on bleachers to address the crowd, the protesters delivered an impassioned plea to federal elected officials, demanding they act on climate change before it’s too late.
“My fellow Wolverines, we are not here to skip school,” Sebastian Baez said. “We are here to change the world.”
Everyone risked missed tests and unexcused absences, but protest organizer Azalea Danes believes bold action is required to prevent her generation from inheriting an environmental disaster.
The Bronx Science junior began planning Friday’s walkout two weeks earlier to coincide with similar protests happening around the world. She was inspired by the speeches of Swedish teen environmentalist Greta Thunberg, a champion of the school strike for climate movement, where students lead demonstrations rather than go to class on this particular day.
Although the movement has been confined mostly to Europe, Danes knew her peers could bring that activism to the Bronx.
She set up an Instagram account — ClimateStrikeBXSCI — and began rallying her fellow students.
“The next day I told my friends, ‘In two weeks, we’re having a protest,’” Danes said. “People will be protesting all over the world that day, and I don’t know how it’s going to happen, but we will make it happen here.”
Danes and her co-organizers issued a mission statement demanding legislators abide by the emission reduction goals set out by the Paris Agreement, from which the United States withdrew in June 2017.
But the students have an agenda for local change as well. Danes enlisted the help of friend Eytan Stanton, who proposed a number of modifications Bronx Science could make to become more energy efficient.
The school already has 146 solar panels in place, but Stanton believes there should be more.
“I’m thankful that the administration has already recognized that we need to start decreasing our carbon emissions as a school,” Stanton said, “but we have about two or three times more space for solar panels.”
The school’s computers stay on during the weekend, although they are not used. Simply powering them down on Friday would greatly reduce the amount of energy the school consumes.
Part of Stanton’s proposed changes include installing smaller boilers to use in summer, allowing the school to turn off the larger boilers in the basement that use more energy. The change would likely pay for itself within three to four years. Heating the building with natural gas instead of oil also would reduce pollution.
“I also think installing LED lighting is a top priority,” Stanton said. Although the up-front costs could be high, the power efficiency would mean an eventual return on the West 205th Street school’s investment thanks to lower electric bills.
Some of the major changes Stanton proposes — like an updated heating system — would require approval of the city’s school construction authority, while smaller steps like weekend power-downs and LED lighting could be handled at the school level.
Student organizers also want climate change to be taught in schools. Stanton is enrolled in a new green design class Bronx Science offers that focuses on creating physical items that are ecologically sustainable. But climate change, he said, can and should be incorporated into the wider curriculum.
While Friday’s protest was an ambitious first step, the students recognized there is much more work ahead.
“Today, I think we sent a very clear message that we’re serious about addressing climate change,” Baez said. “We’ll call our government representatives and make sure to vote when we’re eligible to. Then they will definitely hear us when we use our vote to fight for this.”