Turning environmental passion into action

Climate change is the largest, most pervasive threat to our collective futures, according to a 2022 United Nations report.

The next generation, who will suffer the consequences, is energized and mobilized to fight climate change. Yet when we celebrate student achievement as seniors transition from high school to the real world, environmental achievements go mostly unrecognized.

Three years into their groundbreaking Youth Climate Institute (YCI) program, the Howard County Conservancy is educating and empowering the next generation of climate leaders. Growing from just four chapters within Howard County in 2022, YCI is entering the 2023-2024 school year with 26 chapters across Howard, Frederick, Montgomery, Prince George’s, and Allegany counties as well as Baltimore City–and even in Selma, Alabama!

So what is YCI? This one-of-a-kind, chapter-based program allows students to participate in climate action in their own backyards. Students spend a semester hearing from local climate experts and digging into local climate issues, including legislation, watershed and food waste concerns.

In the spring, students dig into environmental action projects to make a real impact in their community. YCI students are creative, driven and thoughtful. In the past, student ambassadors have launched the following projects:

  • Fast fashion swaps to reuse and reduce clothing waste,
  • Light bulb exchanges to responsibly dispose of incandescent bulbs and providing new LED bulbs to residents,
  • Advocacy for green legislation, including the Clean New Buildings Act, and
  • Targeted tree plantings in areas with the greatest need..

This school year, the Youth Climate Institute anticipates certifying more than 300 Certified Ambassadors and 40 Certified Ambassadors with Honors.

Encouraging Leadership and Community in the Next Generation

Aside from the clear career and educational benefits, YCI has offered these young people the chance to make real change,–to feel like their actions are helping in a worldwide fight against a massive problem. Student action projects are driven and designed by their own interests and concerns. Through these projects, students engage directly with community members and stakeholders.

Local Howard County students remain in YCI year after year, and are eager to welcome new students into the support YCI network.

“Coming into high school, I struggled with wanting to be involved, but not knowing how to. Then YCI came up as an opportunity. I was elated to have this chance to join a community that was so closely knit and like-minded, but also very welcoming,” said Abigail, a student attending Long Reach High School.
“YCI has made me feel like I am a part of something important. Like I am doing my part, no matter how small or big, to help the community and the environment in any way I can. That feeling of importance, personally, is a joyous feeling.”

YCI is also an outlet to discuss and address the climate anxiety that so many students experience. It can be a difficult conversation to have, but, in the safety of their own classrooms and among their peers, YCI students can have meaningful conversations about their future–and play an active role in addressing climate change.

“For me, the Howard County Conservancy’s Youth Climate Institute is a reassurance that people all over the world and in my community are making an effort to stop climate change, as well as creating an avenue to actually participate in that effort,” said Michael, a Glenelg High School student currently pursuing an Ambassador with Honors certification with YCI.
“It means the world to me that our lives and our futures aren’t being overlooked or ignored.”

Interested in Getting Involved?

If you’re interested in launching a Youth Climate Institute at your school, or would just like to learn more about the program, visit youthclimateleader.org or reach out to us directly at yci@howardnature.org.