Climate Competition

Yearly student film competition draws students advocating for climate change solutions

Five years after Santa Fe-based nonprofit Climate Advocates Voces Unidas introduced the Climate Innovation Challenge—a yearly contest where students compete for cash prizes to create short videos about a climate change solution they want to champion—interest has grown exponentially. In 2023, CAVU reached more than 10,000 students, and video submissions ran the gamut, Education Director Phil Lucero says, from “solar panels to something the student can create from their imagination.”

CAVU’s climate education program offers two prongs, the contest and a six-lesson curriculum, which he says uniquely prepares students for their “entry point” into climate change advocacy.

“That means doing kind of a deep dive on, ‘What are you good at? What are your skill sets? What are you passionate about? What are your resources?’ Or, how they can have an impact on their local communities,” Lucero says.

Originally, CAVU exclusively provided the curriculum to Santa Fe’s Title I schools, which have predominantly low-income student populations. However, during the onset of the pandemic, Lucero focused on how to make the program work in a remote learning setting, which he says contributed to the sudden increase in participating schools.

“Because we were able to do that successfully, now we’re able to work with anyone that is interested in participating,” Lucero says. “Now we have registrants from 24 different states in the US and 10 different countries…that all said, our focus is on the Santa Fe Public Schools, Title I schools within Santa Fe. That’s where we started; that’s where we have our closest ties.”

Despite a large number of submissions from across the globe and the “Best in Show” video—receiving a $1,500 grand prize—being from a Florida school district, projects from schools in Santa Fe still stood out in 2023.

“As we started brainstorming other ideas to help reduce food waste, we realized our lunch time—15 minutes—was a problem,” a third-grade student from Amy Biehl Community School says in his class’s video about food waste. “According to the US Department of Agriculture, extending lunch periods from 20 to 30 minutes reduces plate waste by nearly one-third.”

One 10th-grade student from the New Mexico School for the Arts detailed the way droughts affect millions of people in the US, noting, “your lawn could be wasting water and keeping it from places and people who need it” in her video titled Your Lawn Sucks.

A Carlos Gilbert Elementary fourth grader explained the dangers of fast fashion, before showing more sustainable ways to acquire new clothes, such as going to a clothing swap event in Albuquerque.

The students involved in each of these winning submissions received between $200 and $300 prizes. This year, video submissions are due March 20, and the awards showcase will take place virtually on May 9.

Students from THRIVE Community School, a southeastern Santa Fe public charter school that opened in the 2022-2023 school year, hope to make their mark.

“Before they had students even come in the door, we were already talking with their head of school, Sean Duncan, about implementing the program at the school,” Lucero says. “THRIVE is becoming one of our strongest participants in terms of not only the numbers, but in terms of engagement throughout the staff.”

This year, THRIVE expanded the CAVU program to fifth and seventh grades. According to THRIVE teacher Erika Gallegos, sixth-grade students responded enthusiastically to the first year in the competition. One student received an honorable mention for his video on composting during the 2023 showcase and received $50.

“The Climate Innovation Challenge has helped my class open their eyes to the impacts and effects of climate change,” Gallegos tells SFR. “I really enjoyed helping students learn about climate change and create their videos. I am definitely looking forward to implementing the challenge with my fifth grade students this year.”

The school’s heavy involvement in CAVU, Lucero says, made THRIVE the perfect candidate for a new partnership between CAVU and the Santa Fe Community College, which afforded students a visit to the college for an educational day of climate-centered STEM presentations.

On Jan. 25, about 75 students from THRIVE Community School toured the college with Associate STEM Dean Kevin Trujillo, who also works as scientific advisor at CAVU. The students’ excitement for programs like these, he says, aligns with his goals.

“Kids will say things like, ‘I’m not a science person, I’m not a math person.’ What we’re trying to do is change that mindset into showing them that science is something they can do…and really trying to nurture that,” Trujillo says. “We also want them to view the community college as a place where they’re comfortable, and a place where they have resources and people are here to help them.”

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