What can school-age children do to fight global warming? They can influence their parents to make energy-saving changes, as demonstrated by a pioneering program called Cool the Earth. The program educates kids about climate change and motivates them to take actions at home and reduce their carbon emissions.

“This is such a simple pre-packaged program,” says parent Helena Flecker, who introduced Cool the Earth to her children’s school, Lloyd Harbor Elementary in Huntington. “You sign up online and a box arrives with all these incredible materials; it’s so clear and straightforward to implement. The impact on the environment is enormous!” After just a few short weeks, kids from Lloyd Harbor performed more than 1,500 actions at home to reduce their carbon emissions.

Launched by a mom in Northern California four years ago, the Cool the Earth program is now running nationwide in nearly 100 schools. Available online to any school in the country at no charge, the program takes place outside of classroom time and relies on a volunteer parent or teacher. The program begins with a short play performed by a school’s teachers. The skit introduces kids to the concepts of climate change with characters such as the bad Mr. Methane and Koda, the polar bear cub whose beloved ice is melting.

“The skit is amazing; the kids really love it,” says parent JoAnn Bellistri, who ran the program at St. Patrick elementary school in Huntington. “The kids really love watching their teachers perform in the play. It’s a great way to launch environmental awareness and a really fun experience.”

After watching the play, children go home with coupon books containing 20 no- or low-cost actions that they can take to reduce their carbon emissions and “help the polar bears.” Once families take action at home, like switching out ten regular light bulbs for energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamps, parents sign the respective coupon. Children then bring the coupons back to school where they receive credit and incentives, including earth-friendly trading cards.

Using the plight of polar bears as an example of a cause for change engages students and involves them in deeper issues. “Cool the Earth was a start-off point for a lot of conversations with the kids about the environment as well as other issues,” Flecker says. The kids became so aware of their newfound eco-habits, Flecker notes, that she overheard a pair of them instructing one another in the school’s cafeteria: “‘No, no, that doesn’t go in that garbage container, that goes over here in recycling. Remember Koda says that we have to recycle.’”

Because Cool the Earth operates outside of classroom time, it’s easy on teachers. At Lloyd Harbor, Flecker asked school security guard Mr. Mike to collect the action coupons from kids and dole out trading cards and prizes in the morning. “He loved it,” Flecker says, “and the kids absolutely loved participating.”

Flecker credits Cool the Earth for raising awareness about climate change in the entire Lloyd Harbor school community, including among parents and teachers. “There aren’t always so many activities you can do where everyone in the community participates,” Flecker says. “It was such an uplifting experience.”

For Flecker, who already ran a green team at her school, Cool the Earth was precisely the type of program she was looking to bring to Lloyd Harbor. “When I read about this program I just thought it was a no brainer,” she says. “This beautifully pre-packaged program can make a major impact right away.”

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