Denver Public Schools: A Hopeful Generation of Climate Champions

Key Points

  • Partnerships between purpose-driven schools and local initiatives are a great way to find funding and opportunity for young people.

  • Greening your school can start in big or small ways and student-led initiatives are a great way to begin.

In Denver Public Schools, students have been leading the sustainability charge for the last few years, starting with meetings with the school board and, ultimately, leading to the development of the district’s own Climate Action Plan. From there, DPS launched one of the best district websites for monitoring growth and improvement in reaching their set of climate goals. 

“Climate Change and its effects are happening now. We can not take any longer to take action. I hope to inspire others, so we can all work together to take care of the only place we call home. Everyone deserves a healthy and sustainable future,” says Farah Djama, Class of 2024 and Secretary of the Climate Action Team.

The continued sustainability focus has led to numerous opportunities for the students. One such initiative, the Climate Champions Grant Program, is a testament to the power of collaboration, youth engagement, and grassroots activism in the fight against global warming. This collaboration aims to equip young learners in urgent environmental conservation and innovation efforts. 

The Climate Champions Grant Program

The Climate Champions Grant Program was catalyzed by discussions between the Denver Office of Climate Action, Sustainability & Resiliency (CASR), Denver Public Schools (DPS) Sustainability Team, and students. These conversations revolved around how to actively involve youth in environmental sustainability efforts, specifically through the Denver Climate Protection Fund. Recognizing that students had innovative ideas but lacked the necessary resources to bring these to fruition, DPS and Denver CASR leveraged their unique partnership. 

To begin this process, students were provided with an application packet that outlined the project requirements, aligning with DPS’ Climate Action Plan and the allowable uses of funding from the Climate Protection Fund. This ensured that the projects not only addressed local environmental issues but also contributed to broader climate action goals. The application process encouraged a grassroots approach, where students, supported by teachers, classmates, and mentors, took the lead in developing their project ideas. Some schools conducted surveys to gauge interest in various project proposals, while others presented their ideas directly to school principals. Furthermore, DPS facilitated the process by offering pre-application assistance through virtual workshops and one-on-one support, ensuring that students had the guidance needed to refine their proposals.

Student involvement was a critical component of the Climate Champions Grant Program. They were not just participants but were at the forefront of conceptualizing, designing, and pitching project ideas. An interdisciplinary group of experts from both DPS and Denver CASR evaluated the applications based on specific criteria, reflecting the program’s commitment to environmental justice and the promotion of sustainable solutions across different school types and project categories. Despite being in its pilot year, the program received more project submissions than it could fund, indicating strong interest and the potential for future growth. The awarded grants are as follows: 

This collaboration is a great example of what it looks like to give students agency, purpose and connections to real world learning experiences. These cross sector collaborations are representative of real world learning in action.

Mason Pashia

Mason is the Creative Director at Getting Smart. He is an advocate for arts education, strategy, design thinking and poetry.

Green Pathways

Over the last few years, climate change and massive funding support has created new and immense demand for rapid infrastructure building and greening our economy. This publication focuses on identifying the many opportunities for developing a purpose-driven and skillful workforce via Green Pathways.

The goal of Green Pathways is to generate quality jobs, which will happen through the introduction and nurturing of green skills. These skills include, but are not limited to, climate literacy, project-based learning and clean energy pathways.

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