My Climate Story: Philadelphia students present environmental problems and solutions at WHYY

Inside WHYY, students from eight area schools listened as their peers shared presentations, spoken word, and projects about the climate in Greater Philadelphia and beyond.

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Kimora Jackson speaks at a podium in front of a presentation.

Kimora Jackson of W.B. Saul High School shares her climate story during the storytelling festival at WHYY. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

This story is part of the WHYY News Climate Desk, bringing you news and solutions for our changing region.

From the Poconos to the Jersey Shore to the mouth of the Delaware Bay, what do you want to know about climate change? What would you like us to cover? Get in touch.

Students from across Philadelphia offered presentations on how the changing environmental landscape personally affects them.

My Climate Story gives students from sixth grade and on the chance to present on climate topics from Greater Philadelphia and around the world.

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The project has gathered hundreds of first-person accounts from young Philadelphians experiencing climate change. After participants presented their work, some accounts were added to an online collection.

Inside WHYY, students from eight area schools listened intently as their peers spoke. A breadth of topics were considered, from lessened snowfall and the effects of increased temperatures on gun violence, to waste disposal and advancements in urban farming.

Kayla Rideout, a junior at Kensington’s High School for Creative and Performing Arts, presented on stage. Afterwards, she said a lack of cohesive climate solutions is worrying.

“People [are] not doing much… I feel like we have these people in there that do what they can. But one person isn’t enough; we need more. We need more attention. I feel like obviously we have a lot of resources. So I feel like why not put all that together?”

Kayla Rideout and Yolanda Flanders pose for a photo.
Kayla Rideout and Yolanda Flanders are students at Kensington’s High School for Creative and Performing Arts. Rideout said she’s worried not enough people are concerned about climate change. (Sam Searles/WHYY)

After hearing from peers, students heard personal climate stories from a panel of experts, from reporter Susan Phillips, to Nidhi Krishen from the Philadelphia Office of Sustainability.

WHYY News reporter Sophia Schmidt explained how they reported a climate story with Roxborough and Manayunk residents a year after Hurricane Ida’s intense rains brought catastrophic flooding to the area. Schmidt explained that the story focused on one question: How far can you get in one year of recovery?

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“We talked to seven or eight different people, and we have their very intense, detailed personal stories,” said Schmidt. “I used old news coverage, I did some interviews, and then within those areas I spoke to leaders of community groups.”

Sophia Schmidt speaks into a microphone as other panelists look on.
WHYY’s Sophia Schmidt (center) shares their experience reporting on climate issues during a panel on climate storytelling for high school students. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

One climate story that Schmidt added to her reporting was from Stephen Wojciechowski.  Schmidt was moved to share the experience: “The reason that I wanted to highlight him was [because] he lived in a double-wide trailer home and he wanted to… raise it up a couple of feet because he was thinking this will probably happen again,” Schmidt said. “But he didn’t have the resources to do that. He was coming up against a very real barrier to adaptation. And he told me ‘I’ll go through one more flood here and then I’m going to move.’”

Nidhi Krishen from the Philadelphia Office of Sustainability challenged students, asking them what caused most of the greenhouse emissions in the city. Students guessed cars, trains, and downtown areas. “Cars do emit,” answered Krishen, “they are part of our emission story. But it is buildings — 70% of the city’s emissions come from how our buildings use energy.”

Krishen said that Philadelphians create emissions in the heating and cooling. She said using more efficient sources of energy, also known as decarbonizing buildings, will be important.

“Efficient buildings that use energy as efficiently as possible and buildings that begin to use clean energy… moving away from gas, right? The grand theory of addressing climate change is electrifying everything and then we decarbonize the grid by moving it to renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind to power our electrical needs. That is the world that we are trying to shift towards. And our homes are also buildings.”

Nidhi Krishen speaks into a microphone while seated onstage as other panelists look on.
Nidhi Krishen from the Philadelphia Office of Sustainability talks about decarbonizing buildings during a panel discussion at the My Climate Story event at WHY. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Before and after climate stories and panelists, students could peruse a wide variety of solutions from other schools. Standing in front of a table display, Aiden Sanxhaku, a sophomore at Masterman, said he wants environmental science and climate solutions to be available for everyone, citing recent advancements like successful nuclear fusion that the general public might not be aware of.

“I’ve noticed that there’s a really severe disconnect between scientists and politicians,” he said. “Breakthroughs that scientists are making aren’t necessarily reaching the public in an accessible and understandable manner. I feel that that really inhibits how much we actually know about climate change and what ways we can personally help in combating climate change.”

Aiden Sanxhaku and Kaddy Ren pose for a photo.
Aiden Sanxhaku and Kaddy Ren stand in front of the presentation from their school, Masterman. (Sam Searles/WHYY)

Over three hours, My Climate Story attendees heard from over a dozen students and half a dozen panelists.

Masterman sophomore Kaddy Ren says she’s looking forward to what comes next.

“My Climate Story is just working to hear everybody’s story… by exchanging these ideas and borrowing from each other, I think that we’re really shaping up to make a better future together.

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