Monday, I took my son Peter to YouthCan 2007, a conference for kids on helping the environment through technology held at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
Most of the people attending were part of school groups, some from as far away as Argentina, Russia, and Iran, though most from the US. In all, attendance was about a thousand.
A couple of years ago, I tried to arrange for a delegation from my son's school to attend, but in our district there were too many bureaucratic obstacles, and so I failed. This year, when I received a reminder of the event via email, on whim I decided that Peter and I would attend.
I decided to drive in rather than take MetroNorth from Pleasantville, since once you get off MetroNorth it is a bit cumbersome to get -- via public transportation -- from Grand Central Station to the museum. We left home about 8:30 AM and got a nice parking space in the museum parking garage (for which I later paid a hefty sum: $43).
(I had arranged for a babysitter for my daughter in in the afternoon [$30-something], and for the Mother Hen bus service [$30] to get her from pre-school and take her there, so Peter and I had as much time as we needed. Museum admission was free with the event, but I had already run up over a $100 tab as soon as I set the plan in motion. And Linda Hirshman wonders in a New York Times OpEd piece wonders at the struggle of moms rejoining the work-force, or meditates on our competing obligations; or something. It cost a hundred bucks to spend the day with one child in NYC without the other. In my utopia, this would be cheaper.)
We arrived before opening ceremonies began; opening and closing ceremonies were held in the Hall of Ocean Life -- with the full scale model of a blue whale hanging from the ceiling -- a great venue for any event. The room full of kids and chaperons was better behaved than one might have expected as we waited for the rest to arrive because there was so much to look at just in that one room.
Andrew Revkin, a science writer for The New York Times and author of the kids' book about global warming, The North Pole Was Here, gave what was essentially the keynote speech. He made the interesting point that he realized that after writing 300 NYT articles, the people he should have been writing to were kids, since the decisions affecting our current climate are already made and that the decisions made now and in the near future most affect those under 19. I would have liked to see his one-hour presentation on his trip to the North Pole, but I had Peter signed up for something else, and so just bought a copy of his book to read later.
There were three program slots to sign up for. Our first was EcoMedia, held by The Bronx River Art Center:
Become educated about the Bronx River environment through several student multimedia approaches with different tools involving ecoTV, ecoGames, ecoWeb, ecoSound, and ecoPhoto. See an amazing project unravel before your eyes as students in this ecological workshop, translate ideas like invasive species or watershed physics.
This was my first exposure to 13-year-olds giving software demos. I suppressed the impulse to try to help. It made the biggest impression of all on my 9-year-old son, who had seen mommy do many or all of the things the kids were showing him how to do, but having kids show him was different.
The next session we went to was held by third graders from Miami Country Day School and consisted of a series of presentations by groups of third graders on solutions to the problem of world hunger.
How much land is actually useful for agricultural purposes? Find out and learn about a more effective way to grow crops in many of the poor regions of the world. Be ready to take home all you need to make your own container garden. Make up a recipe with organic herbs flown fresh from our school garden for your enjoyment! This workshop is hands-on, nose-on, and mouth-on.
The kids were doing a splendid job. But the room was hot and crowded (too small for the number of people there) so we slipped off for lunch before the end.
In the cafe, we found the group who had given the ecoMedia presentation, so we sat with them when we ate our lunch.
The third session we attended was Guerrilla Gardening, held by sixth graders from the Salk School of Science in New York City.
Save the plants and save the world! Learn how you and/or your school can create amazing indoor gardens while recycling and reusing your kitchen refuse. Plant beans, corn, potatoes, ginger, and much more. Leave with a head start on your own garden!
The students collectively taught a lesson that they might have had at school with their teacher. We drew sketches of various kinds of seeds found in many kitchens (kidney beans, bird seed, popping corn, etc.) then we made planters for them out of clear egg cartons and each came home set up to sprout the seeds on our windowsills.
After that, we attended the lively closing ceremonies in which there was some moderated discussion of what we had gotten out of the day. One of the teenagers attending had submitted a compelling short essay that was read out loud.
After the official conference was over, we paid a visit to the Discovery Room, one of Peter's favorite parts of the museum. He looked at live grubs and butterfly wings under the microscope. We also spent a while in the museum's enormous gift shop.
After a snack in the museum's main dining room, we went up to the top floor and saw the Audubon exhibit and the dinosaur skeletons. we saw a few more exhibits and then headed home.
For next year, when Peter will be in middle school, I think I'll try again to get a school delegation together to give a presentation.