The powers of #ServiceSpotlights connected me to New York high school student and environmental activist Rachel Sutin, founder of Students4Planet (S4P). I am so glad they did. Rachel is passionate, driven, and a force to be reckoned with. I look forward to watching her and her movement reach more folks around the city and beyond. Without further ado, here’s our conversation.
Liz: Let’s start in traditional Smile Project fashion. Give me a “Happiness is.”
Rachel: Happiness is dancing candles, warm blankets, and the first second after waking up from a long nap. Oh, and flannel pajama pants.
Liz: Tell me about Students4Planet.
Rachel: We work with local schools to make curriculums more climate-conscious, because knowing about climate change is the first step to fighting it. The curriculum reform depends on the school, but oftentimes we work to make climate education more interdisciplinary, since the baseline science curriculum in New York is pretty decent already.
Liz: What is the driving force behind what you do?
Rachel: I do what I do because of the impact nature has had on me. I’m someone who gets anxious, and nature calms me down. A few months ago, I was feeling really overwhelmed in Trader Joe’s, and I went to the plants section, took some deep breaths, and felt better.
As mundane as it sounds, this was the moment I realized how much nature has given me. I also do what I do because Mexican Axolotls and Pygmy Sloths and Egyptian Tortoises make me smile, even if they are all endangered. I want to protect these things so people in the world to come will be able to connect to nature the way I have. And climate change, among other things, threatens that.
Liz: What does service mean to you?
Rachel: To me, service means doing what we can about topics we are passionate about. And doing them in ways that we enjoy. Service can be art, writing, or collecting—it isn’t always leading a rally with a megaphone.
Liz: How can people get involved or support your project?
Rachel: People can get involved in a multitude of ways, some of which include:
Starting your own S4P Chapter in your town or city. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org saying that you want to help, and we’ll give you step by step instructions and resources on how to contact your local schools.
Contacting your school. Just email email@example.com saying that you want to get involved, and we’ll give you step by step instructions and resources on how to contact the school you belong to.
Visiting our website. The link is https://students4planetjoi.wixsite.com/website-1
Following us on social media. Our Instagram is @students4planet
Sending some words of encouragement. Climate change advocacy can feel really overwhelming, so words of encouragement help! Just DM @students4planet on Instagram showing your support. It only takes a few minutes, and is often what reminds me why I do all this.
Liz: Anything else you'd like to add?
Rachel: Activism is for everyone! Don’t feel like you have to be Greta Thunberg to make a difference. (No hate to Greta—but expectations can be scary.) Just think about things that could change in your immediate area, and make little goals to get there.
Liz: Do you have a favorite quote or piece of advice to leave us with?
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
— Theodore Roosevelt