4-H teen leaders share how to ‘Curb Our Carbon Appetite’

Stock photo.

“What is the atmosphere and what are some reasons why Earth’s atmosphere is important to life?” 4-H teen leader Dayana recently asked a class of eighth-graders to kick off the Curbing Our Carbon Appetite Challenge.  

The Cornell Cooperative Extension of Monroe County 4-H program took part in the 2021 National 4-H Ag Innovators Experience this spring. This experience, sponsored by National 4-H Council and Bayer, empowers local teen leaders to teach a lesson to younger youth on how to apply STEM skills to address real-life agriculture challenges. 

Through hands-on activities and demonstrations, teen leaders helped youth understand the effects of higher levels of atmospheric carbon on Earth’s temperature and share ways they can reduce their carbon footprint.  

4-H partnered with the Upward Bound program at Monroe Community College to select and support four youth leaders. Upward Bound coordinator Alice Gray supported them throughout the experience. To prepare for teaching, teens participated in 30 hours of training for this experience. 

“Our teen leaders put in a lot of hard work to learn the material and prepare for teaching,” Gray said. “At the beginning, our teen leaders were apprehensive. Then, as they started teaching, they made the lesson their own and their leadership skills grew. It was impressive to see them adapt activities for a virtual learning environment and with the different age groups.”  

Teen leaders reflected on their own experience in the classroom as students and what they appreciated about different teachers’ teaching styles. After teaching the Curbing our Carbon Appetite Challenge, they took away a better understanding of what happens on the other side of the classroom.  

Dayana said students will pick up on and respond to the effort and energy teachers show. Remembering the importance of having a good attitude and showing confidence helped her overcome fears of being in front of a group. She also learned the importance of balance when teaching.  

“It is important to be attentive, but not overbearing to give students the space to process and ask questions,” she said.   

Teen leaders taught over 130 Monroe County youth in school and community settings. Lessons included building atmospheric carbon models to represent climate change effects on Earth and creating a carbon-friendly lunch. They also discussed carbon-friendly actions that agriculture, businesses and industry, individuals and families can take to benefit their community. 

Sheila Eagan, who teaches English as a New Language to grades 3-5 at Helen Barrett Montgomery School No. 50, said she enjoyed when teen leader Morgan built the atmospheric carbon models.  

“It was great to have a visual of how the greenhouse effect actually works, especially for my English language learners,” she said. “Being able to ‘see’ what the greenhouse effect does after making some hypotheses was a nice connection to science.”  

“Having [teen leaders] teach our younger students shows them what is possible. Watching them light up with questions and connections on climate change was wonderful. Climate change is such an enormous problem and our young people are going to bear the brunt of it, so getting them engaged with the problems and more importantly the solutions is incredibly important.” 

Teen leader Kadejah said she will use the leadership and teaching skills from AIE in her future endeavors.  

“At first, I was kind of scared to teach,” Kadejah said. “As I did it more and more, I felt more comfortable in leading the kids and directing them through activities. I enjoyed learning about and teaching ways we can help the environment.”  

Teen leaders appreciated watching youth participants learn throughout the Challenge.  

“My favorite part of this experience has been being able to witness the learning experience and growth of the participants,” teen leader Noemí said. “To see [participant’s] faces glow when they see that they can make a difference is so rewarding and it makes me feel like I’m making a difference.”