Teenagers, an urban farm and
no cell phones.
No, it’s not a dream. It was
the actual scene on a recent Friday afternoon, when a group of 8th–graders
Magnet Middle School took a trip to
the farm at Paramount School of Excellence.
They were so into the
chickens, goats and bees that texting, selfies, Instagram and Snapchat took a
backseat to farm life.
“I was just watching how
engaged they were,” said Madeline Rozelle, who teaches art at Harshman. “I was
joking about this with them, but no one was on their cell phone, not even to
take pictures. They were so excited. They even spent 20 minutes talking about
and looking at beehives that didn’t have bees in them.”
In the middle of that scene
was Jim Poyser, executive director of Earth
Charter Indiana, a grassroots
organization that focuses on climate change and social inequality. He’s been
teaching Harshman students about sustainability since the fall of 2015.
“I’ve just never seen them so
attentive,” said Poyser, about the trip to the farm. “They really impressed the
outdoor educator (at Paramount) and asked really intelligent questions. Their
love for animals is just off the charts.”
Harshman isn’t the only
Indianapolis Public Schools location where Poyser is spreading his messages of
green living, sustainability and climate change.
He has worked with students
at Sidener Academy for High Ability Students, IPS/
Butler University Laboratory School 60,
Louis B. Russell Jr. School 48,
High School, Cold
School, as well as the Center for
Inquiry School 2 and School 27, among others.
And he’s spreading his
message by any means necessary. Poyser has taken groups of IPS students on bus
rides using IndyGo; led them on tours of local urban farms; tested their knowledge
on climate change in a game show he created called the “Ain’t Too Late Show”;
and showcased some of their 3D bees in an exhibit at the Indianapolis
Artsgarden. That was just his April schedule.
However, imparting his knowledge
and the facts about climate change and sustainability causes both joy and some angst
The angst comes from the
Earth he knows they are going to inherit, which includes extreme climate
changes (“our weather is now on steroids”), the warming of the ocean, which
results in the bleaching of coral reefs; the melting of the ice caps, which is
raising sea levels. The list goes on.
The joy comes from knowing
that youths can make a difference. “People often say to me, ‘It’s so great that
you’re planting seeds.’ And I say, ‘You know what, we don’t have time for
seeds. We need to get moving on this now,’” said Poyser. “And who better than
the people whose future depends on it? We need the kids to remind us that
they’re the bottom line.”
Ultimately, he wants to make
them “alert to what I’m saying and make them aware that (making the Earth
better) really depends on what they
do now.” And to equip them with the hands-on knowledge to reach their end goal.
Rozelle can see the
difference in her students.
“In the beginning, I don’t
think they really had a whole lot of knowledge of the environment and their
impact on it … where our food comes from and how the choices of the human race
are affecting the planet,” said Rozelle, who started the sustainability intensive
with Poyser at Harshman.
Now, she said, they are also
interested in the policy side of sustainability. They’re exploring the role of
students and what they can do to make a difference.
“For the kids, it’s about
learning how to be self-sufficient. Taking or owning your own transportation,
bicycle and bus (principally); being able to grow your own food, being able to
use your end products responsibly and being able to generate your own
electricity,” said Poyser, who practices what he preaches.
Poyser rides his bike
year-round to cut down on carbon emissions. He has reduced his intake of meat
by 60–65 percent (“I certainly have altered the kinds of meat that I eat.
Animal agriculture is a very destructive part of our human behavior.”). He buys
local and uses a co-mingling recycling unit, which only requires him to put out
trash once a month at home.
Although he has always been
concerned about the plant and living green, he hasn’t always made a living
doing it. A former journalist, Poyser actually credits Center for Inquiry
School 2 as the reason he’s with Earth Charter Indiana and making a living
helping students throughout the state and others learn how to take care of the
“(CFI 2) sort of led to my
transition from being managing editor at Nuvo (an alternative weekly
publication) and having a career in journalism to actually leaving that
position so that I could work with kids fulltime,” he said.
Back in spring 2013, while
still with Nuvo, Poyser led a talk on climate change to students at CFI 2 and
was amazed at how much they already knew.
“The kids already knew what
was going on … from the Greenhouse Effect to carbon emissions and its warming
the planet. In fact, they were already doing things like planning for a green
roof, gardening and composting,” said Poyser. “They were doing so many things
that I literally walked out of there with one of those epiphanies that you wish
for in your life – the one where you know what you want to do with your life
from that day forward. I knew when I walked out of CFI, what I wanted to do.”
In the fall of 2013, Poyser
became executive director of Earth Charter Indiana.
I have a lot to thank IPS for – for providing amazing instruction, inspiration
and mentorship to these kids because it gave me the courage to leave a great
job and a pretty set career to sort of step off a cliff into the world of
climate change solutions,” he said.