For the last three weeks, students of all ages at the French American Academy have been boosting their efforts to reduce waste, recycle plastic and paper, walk, cycle, or ride a scooter, reuse materials, enjoy nature, and more. These small actions and gestures are all part of the “My Little Planet” (Ma Petite Planète) challenge, which ran from January 23 to February 13 of this year. All in all, our school community completed 4,589 actions for the planet!
The Sustainable Development Goals
While the students’ deeds are each small and manageable, they are linked to much greater goals for the planet. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals, chosen and outlined by the United Nations, are areas of action for improving the lives of ordinary people. According to the UN:
“[The 17 goals] recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.”
Our “My Little Planet” challenges each had a direct connection to the 17 UN goals. For example, the challenge to walk or bike to school is tied to goals 3 (good health and well-being), 7 (affordable and clean energy), and 11 (sustainable cities and communities), among others. Turning off water and lights demonstrates goal 11 (responsible consumption), while cleaning up litter helps life below water and on land (goals 14 and 15). The challenges were adapted for students’ ages, with older students being called upon to make more responsible choices for themselves. Thanks to communication and cooperation with parents, our teachers were able to award “points” to students for actions that they took outside of school.
Appreciation and Encouragement
Students frequently discovered that the “My Little Planet” challenges were already part of their lives. In many families, for example, enjoying nature walks, eating less meat, or meditating are already part of their normal activities. Indeed, one objective of this activity is to highlight and recognize the importance of actions we already take. The “My Little Planet” challenges can also emphasize that we could always do more, and with a diverse array of challenges that evolved on a weekly basis, families were encouraged to discover further action they could take to protect the planet.
Eco-Delegates: Leading by Example
At the Jersey City and Englewood campuses, our Sustainable Development Coordinators Thibaut Bastide and Alexandra Yacoub are organizing our efforts to become more environmentally responsible. The coordinators work closely with the school’s “eco-delegates”, students from fourth to eighth grades who create and plan environmental initiatives for our school. Students serving as eco-delegates not only take proactive steps to protect the environment, but they also have the opportunity to teach and model good behaviors for their classmates, sharpening their leadership and communication skills.
Our Sustainable Development coordinators and committee have been busy this year! Among other things, they organized a school-wide recycling program, which involved communicating with teachers and students, procuring bins, posting information, and organizing collection. While some classes have participated in composting in the past, compost collection is now also a school-wide program; our Englewood campus even has a garden in which they do their own composting. Additionally, our older students have undertaken a project to reduce food waste in a quantifiable way, by weighing their leftover food and trying to decrease the amount they throw away at the end of meals. In Englewood, the proceeds from a movie night fundraiser will be used to purchase a rainwater collection reservoir, and they’ve also organized a food drive for a local food pantry.
The Sustainable Development Photography Contest
Through the Organization for International French Schools, the French American Academy is also participating in a contest featuring photography that depicts the 17 UN goals. Inspired by this beautiful collection from the Good Planet Foundation, the purpose of the contest is to encourage our classes to think critically about how we might visualize each goal within a single picture. Our classes are all submitting images for the competition, along with explanations of each photograph’s connection to one of the 17 goals.
Small Steps with Big Results
To celebrate the successful completion of this year’s “My Little Planet” competition, our Jersey City students gathered to find out the results, to hear from their eco-delegates, and to enjoy a song and dance party. The shared celebration underscored the importance of communal effort in creating real change. By frequently modeling, enacting, and sharing efforts to protect the planet, educators and caregivers emphasize that every deed, even small, can make a difference. We hope that our students will move forward with the understanding that the choices they make can have a positive impact on our “little planet”!