Taking the Lead
Jeff Rennicke, English Teacher

At Conserve School, students are urged to become leaders in their communities, to organize and educate and lead the way for others. Isabella Spitznagle, Danielle LaLuzerne, and Ella Kunstman have learned those lessons well. The three CS17 alums were the driving force behind planning, organizing, promoting, and leading the Wisconsin Youth Climate Summit held June 1-2 in Madison, WI, an event which brought together leaders and activists from around the state including other CS alums, students registered for future semesters CS19 and CS20 as well as Conserve School staff members. The goal of the conference, according to Ella Kunstman, was “to create an accepting, community-driven space that would motivate students to be conscious of their role in the world and feel empowered to take action.”

Students presenting at Wisconsin Youth Climate Summit

Held at Madison’s First Unitarian Society headquarters in a building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the opening of the event featured a welcome by Native American Ambassador Art Shegonee of the Menominee and Potawatomi tribes of Wisconsin who called for cooperation and respect for all in the protection of Mother Earth. Wisconsin State Representative Greta Neubauer gave a keynote address (D-Racine) entitled “Building Power and Community in the Youth Climate Movement” further set the tone for the weekend and the over 50 registered attendees including students accepted into the coming Fall and Spring semesters at Conserve.

Students listening

Community building, art, and workshops filled out the day’s agenda with such programs as “The Nuts and Bolts of Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change” presented by University of Wisconsin professor Ankur Desai, “The Power of the Youth Vote” led by activist Joe Waldman, and other workshops on such topics as Environmental Racism, Becoming an Ally, and Social Entrepreneurship. Sunday was a day to explore the power of art through a mural painting project led by artist and activist Shadaya Kilfoy-Flores.

Mural of a nature scene
Students listening to a talk by a tribal elder

Conserve School was well-represented on the agenda with Ella Kunstman (CS17) giving a workshop called “Fast Fashion and Consumerism,” Isabella Spitznagle (CS17) speaking on “The Impacts of Social Media on Climate Change,” and Conserve School teacher Jeff Rennicke presenting a nuts-and-bolts workshop called “Turn up the Volume: Keys to Effective Public Speaking and Letter Writing Campaigns.” Rennicke, who teaches both English and Nature Photography at Conserve, also gave a closing keynote address called “Hiking Towards Hope: How the Generations Can Link Arms and Work Together.” 
It was a weekend of leadership, and it all began at Conserve School. “Conserve taught me a lot about what people can personally do to be more sustainable,” says Danielle, “as well as influencing others. I’ve realized that it really isn’t all that difficult to get involved in the issues you’re passionate about. Conserve inspired me to turn my intentions into actions, and taught me how to be an effective organizer.”

Jeff Rennicke presenting at Youth Climate Summit
Students mingling and meeting one another

Organizing, educating, encouraging, and leading. The lessons of Conserve are embodied by these CS17 alums for the good of the planet, and for all of us.

Photos contributed by Jeff Rennicke, English Teacher and Callie Roers, CS17.