Earth Day 2022: Young Chicagoans reflect on efforts to help the planet

Young Chicagoans reflected on what Earth Day means to them Friday, including students at Tilden High School, where they built a vertical hydroponic garden and potted plants.

"It's exciting to see how our hard work is going to pay off," said Alex Alvarez, one of several students working on the gardening project.

Several culinary students, including Antwanett Mitchell, learned about hydroponics as they plant herbs and tomato plants. Mitchell plans to take whatever she learns home.

"My momma is always in the kitchen cooking," Mitchell said. "One day she'll tell me to go in there, and I will probably know some stuff from school and probably help her with meals."

Simone Henderson, Tilden High School's culinary instructor, said it's important to expose the students to the farm-to-table concept, teaching them about where their food comes from and how the carbon footprint impacts the environment.

"A lot of them have never been on a farm, been out in the country to see where the food comes from," Henderson said.

Along with Earth Day projects, Chicago Public Schools served plant-based meals districtwide. On average, the district serves more than 270,000 meals every day. On Earth Day, Impossible sausages and burgers were on the menu.

"At first, I was like, 'I don't want to try that because it was going to be nasty,'" Mitchell said. "They told me to give it try, so I tried it. It was good. It's a good experience to try different things."

While some Earth Day events were indoors, others were scheduled outside Friday, and Mother Nature had her own plans with all the rain. Even so, some students braved the elements.

About 50 students from Frances Xavier Warde School took part in the Adopt-A-Beach clean-up at Oak Street Beach, despite the weather.

"I think it's still important to go out and help the community, regardless," said Colin, a student at Frances Xavier Warde. "I was thinking of how all this plastic and trash gets into the environment in the long-term."

So even though it rained, they were there, doing their part, thinking about why this is so important.

"Looking to the future, and thinking of what the world is coming to, I sit down and reflect," said Thomas Fitchett, another Frances Xavier Warde student. "If we don't do these things now, when I'm older there is no turning back."

Back at Tilden, the project is complete. The lessons yet to come.

"I feel this is really cool and a great experience. Not everyone gets this opportunity," said Ella Bentley, a Tilden sophomore.

It's an opportunity that can help on so many levels, just ask Harold Chapman. He's in charge of the career and technical education for CPS.

"We want to empower them with the information and skills to do this for themselves," Chapman said, "to give them a sense of dignity and wonder and curiosity."
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