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RE climate change symposium educates, inspires

Ransom Everglades staged its third-annual RE Energy and Climate Change Symposium over four days, bringing in political leaders, sustainability experts and environmental activists for informative talks and offering its first-ever Student Research Showcase.
Ron Magill, an Emmy-winning wildlife expert and communications director at Zoo Miami, kicked off the symposium by addressing students at Swenson Hall on May 16. Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier L. Suarez and Yanira Pineda, Sustainability Specialist for the City of Miami Beach, were featured speakers on May 17 along with Delaney Reynolds, the teen founder of the Sink or Swim Project.

After a day of student presentations May 20, the event concluded with a keynote address on May 21 by Caroline Lewis, the founder of The Climate Leadership Engagement Opportunities (CLEO) Institute, and the culminating Student Research Showcase, where every sixth- and seventh-grade student, 316 in all, presented research projects.

Students tackled projects related to climate change, energy or sustainability in their science classes and, in some cases, also in their math, visual art, world cultures and geography, and computer science courses – making the event a true interdisciplinary showcase.
Hundreds of parents showed up for the finale, hearing from Lewis, enjoying presentations in various classrooms and locations on the Everglades Campus, and sampling food and items from the various climate friendly vendors in attendance.
A local non-profit Dream in Green provided a Green Leadership Grant to Ransom Everglades that helped defray the costs of the conference, which began in 2017 as a one-day event under the leadership of faculty members Robin Escobedo and Gustavo Palacios. Science faculty member Kelly Jackson helped elevate the 2019 version of the symposium with the support of Head of School Penny Townsend, Head of the Middle School Rachel Rodriguez and the Middle School faculty.

Suarez, the former Miami mayor and father of current Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez, told students that "science is now at the forefront of American policy making," sharing details about the threats to South Florida and other regions posed by climate change and sea-level rise. He brought with him Gavin Sitkoff '14, a member of his staff who attended Ransom Everglades, and encouraged students to consider careers in policymaking fields.

"We need your input," Suarez said. "We need people in government who know science and can assess things... You have to be a little bit of a rebel. Science gives you the ability to question."

Magill shared stories from his photographic journeys of the world to bring to life the problems that climate change has created in the animal kingdom. Using his own photos as a backdrop, Magill explained how rising sea level and temperatures are affecting polar bears, penguins, birds and butterflies and, in turn, how changes to those populations affect other species. 

"Animals provide a window into the future," he said. "When you start seeing animals suffer because of their environment, I promise you, that's a predictor of the future... It's a warning sign."

Magill has traveled to Antarctica, the North Pole and many exotic locales in between to photograph the natural world. He has won five Emmy Awards for his work on various nature documentaries. Because of the increased pace of climate change, Magill said, a million species of animals will be lost in the next two or three decades.

"We've got to understand how all of this is connected," he said.

Reynolds, a 19-year-old marine science student at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science, delighted RE's young audience on the symposium's second day with her remarkable story. In middle school, she began writing children’s book about climate change; she now lives part-time on a 1,000-acre island with 43 solar powered homes in the Florida Keys called No Name Key. She is completing a new book on the impact of climate change and sea level rise in South Florida. Delaney won the inaugural National Geographic Teen Service Award and the Miami Herald’s Silver Knight Award for Social Science.

On the final evening, before heading off to observe students’ presentations, Lewis exhorted students to treasure and share what they had learned from the four-day symposium.

“I want to see your heart,” she said. “I want you to tell me why this matters. [We] can’t fix this without you. It’s you as young people who can make a change.”
Founded in 1903, Ransom Everglades School is a coeducational, college preparatory day school for grades 6 - 12 located on two campuses in Coconut Grove, Florida. Ransom Everglades School produces graduates who "believe that they are in the world not so much for what they can get out of it as for what they can put into it." The school provides rigorous college preparation that promotes the student's sense of identity, community, personal integrity and values for a productive and satisfying life, and prepares the student to lead and to contribute to society.