‘This can’t wait till I’m bigger’: Astoria middle schoolers join the Global Climate Strike

Photos by Max Parrott/QNS

On her way to school on Friday, Lisa Edmiston, the principal of Our World Neighborhood Charter Middle School (OWNCS) in Astoria, saw news of students from Washington to Australia taking to the streets to combat climate change. 

When she got to school, she knew she had to do something. So, she assembled her students and teachers and called a strike.

Middle schoolers from OWNCS joined the day of global strikes in which millions of protesters in more than a hundred countries across the globe urged politicians and businesses to take action to avert the climate crisis.

Friday morning, OWNCS classes dropped what they were doing to create signs and recite chants before taking a mini march around the block. 

As amused neighbors live-streamed the scholars from their phones, the students toted signs, repeated slogans and even sang a song against climate change. Several shouted until they were hoarse and a teacher had to remind one especially passionate student to take a breath. 

“It’s up to everyone. It’s up to the students. We have to stand up for what’s right and just in the world,” said Edmiston. “The students really bought into it. They were asking questions. Parents were sending amazing emails in full support. We can’t just sit down like it’s a normal day.”

Edmiston added that many of her parents had swung by earlier to pick up their students on the way to the citywide protest in Foley Square, which was organized by the Youth Climate Strike Coalition. The protest will be attended by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish activist who began to draw attention to her activism through skipping school on Fridays to protest outside the Swedish Parliament.

The population of OWNCS Middle School pulls from the district covering the Astoria and Long Island City area, a Queens’ progressive stronghold. 

“I think it’s good that many people go because climate change is a real thing,” said one OWNCS student between chants of “Hey! Ho! Climate change has got to go.”

Representatives including Astoria state Sen. Michael Gianaris and Gov. Andrew Cuomo commended participating students across the city. The NYC Department of Education went so far to say it will excuse absences for public school students who participate in the strike.

This next generation of Americans will pay the price if the federal administration’s inaction continues. Leaders in Washington need to finally step up and listen to the youth of the world and follow the lead of New York and other states,” Cuomo said.

Outside of the “World’s Borough,” Queens Congresswoman Grace Meng joined dozens of youth activists on Capitol Hill to help announce legislation that calls for schools to teach climate change in their classrooms.

“The magnitude of climate change will continue to grow and challenge how we live,” said Meng. “That is why it is imperative that we bring the issue into our schools. Our kids are our future scientists, engineers, teachers and innovators who will guide our nation.”

The legislation, a House Resolution that will be introduced by Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) and cosponsored by Meng, seeks to encourage the federal government, states, localities, nonprofit organizations, schools and community organizations to teach climate change in appropriate programs and activities.

“By teaching them about climate change, students will understand the gravity of the situation, and realize that they can be part of the solution,” Meng said.

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