Highland Park Green Kids Shine

At Chicago Botanic Garden’s World Environment Day, a small but dynamic group of children determined to make the earth a healthier place manned one of the popular community displays.

The Highland Park Green Kids were eager to discuss their mission and demonstrate energy-saving projects. They are part of a local grassroots organization founded by kids for kids concerned about climate change and other issues.

“They’re a great renewable resource,” Zach Yamauchi said of wind turbines, demonstrating how they work using two different models.

His face adorned with attention-grabbing green facepaint, Ethan Teich led visitors on a visual tour of his “all-green” dream house, a model painstakingly constructed and rich with details, including energy-saving building materials, solar panels and compost bins.

Braeside student Ari Kohn listed the ways her school reduces waste, such as hosting “litterless lunches.”

Rebecca Fox handed out surveys about polystyrene usage. Along with other kids in the group, she’s concerned about the widely used, nonbiodegradable plastic (foam drinking cups and yogurt containers are just two things made out of polystyrene).

Rebecca explained how Highland Park Green Kids have lobbied for a polystyrene ban through the Highland Park City Council. When the surveys were tallied after World Environment Day, the group discovered that an overwhelming majority of respondents—136 out of 148—favor banning the plastic.

Highland Park Green Kids got started at Ravinia School in Highland Park in 2006, when climate change was featured as a science unit. Moving from the school into their homes, children pledged to reduce their families’ carbon footprints. They also joined Project BudBurst at the Garden, helping to alert botanists about climate change effects on plants.

Highland Park Green Kids is supervised by Rhonda Stern, an environmentalist who taught at Ravinia School for nine years.

Rhonda has worked on many green issues and in 2009 attended COP 15, the 2009 climate change summit in Copenhagen. She has also participated in an international climate change mission to Antarctica.

“I am committed to giving this generation a voice in cleaning up our environmental mess,” said Rhonda. “We are so grateful to the Chicago Botanic Garden for giving us an opportunity to participate and spread our message about the environment.”