Waynflete freshman Emma King decided to look at how our everyday life impacts climate change as part of Climate (EX)Change, a project she and three other students from the school participated in along with students from Oxford Hills and New York City. Contributed / Emma King

The bustling metropolis of New York City and the quiet nature of rural Oxford Hills may both seem worlds away from life in Portland, but a group of students from Waynflete School found common ground among the three this spring: Each place is being affected by climate change.

A team from the private Portland school joined with peers from Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School and from the Friends Seminary in Manhattan to explore through the arts how climate change is impacting their communities.

“We were trying to get students to think about their surroundings and existence in the world to be able to share that with other students that are in distinct and different areas from them,” said John Holdridge, Waynflete’s director of remote learning hubs and dean of summer term.

Four Waynflete students participated in Climate (EX)Change, a month-long project that was part of “Layered City: Urban Space through Art, Technology and Social Justice,” a year-long class at Friends Seminary taught by Andrew Harrison, a long-time friend of Holdridge’s. In all, 22 students were involved in the project.

Waynflete freshman Emma King said the experience was eye-opening.

“We saw the very industrial side of climate change in New York City. In Oxford Hills, it is very rural and it is more about seeing little changes in nature, like delayed snow melt,” said King, a resident of Portland. “Portland is more of a combination of the two. We aren’t as rural as Oxford Hills and aren’t nearly as industrial as New York.”

Students from the three schools met in small groups and used various forms of storytelling – audio, video and photography – to look at how climate change is impacting their surroundings.

The art platform helped her to better see climate change impacts near where she lives, King said. Using photography, she captured images of trash and of exhaust from pipes to “show how our everyday practices impact the world around us.” Her audio piece examined the environmental impact of produce shipped in from miles away.

“We think we are doing the planet a favor by purchasing produce instead of processed foods, but we often don’t think about all the effort and fossil foods it took to get the food here,” she said.

Purchasing local produce and meat is one of the 10 recommendations of ActNow, the United Nations campaign encouraging individual climate change action.

“High school youth are taking a leadership role in their communities. A lot of students who participated in the project are already doing that work and if not, this worked nudged them to take a leadership role,” Holdridge said. “This shows them that artists and people who are creative play a role. They are all needed to move a community forward.”

King said participating in Climate (EX)Change has inspired her to advocate for more efficient modes of public transportation in Portland and to encourage grocery stores in the area to purchase more from local sources.

“It makes sense on a personal level,” she said of people’s decision to use their own transportation, “but it would be great if people thought about public transportation on a larger scale.”

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