Bainbridge Island students share climate change optimism and action

Hyla School students design interactive ferry terminal signage with local climate experts

When climate change feels overwhelming, local teens offer both a dose of optimism and a willingness to take action.

Just ask local teachers and the climate change experts at the Bainbridge-based EcoAdapt.

“What I appreciate is that amid the deluge of doom, students remain hopeful and more committed to solving our existential collective action problem,” reflects James Rufo-Hill, a science teacher at Hyla School on Bainbridge Island.

After working at the City of Seattle to prevent and mitigate the damage of local rising sea levels, Rufo-Hill shifted his career to education. Frustrated with “generational inaction, the status quo and constantly shifting politics,” Rufo-Hill became a teacher.

“I had faith in younger generations to do things differently and to be bold,” he explains. “And my students are validating my beliefs.”

Hyla students are collaborating with Washington State Ferries and EcoAdapt, a world-renowned non-profit focused on climate change adaptations, on a project to educate passengers about rising sea levels.

Having worked with Eco-Adapt during his days at the City of Seattle, and also on the COBI Climate Change Advisory Committee, Rufo-Hill knew that Eco-Adapt shared his appreciation for the instinct of younger generations to act rather than despair in apathy when faced with climate challenges.

When Eco-Adapt partnered with WSF to create the new Bainbridge ferry terminal project to educate passengers about rising sea levels, they knew they wanted local youth involved. Approaching Rufo-Hill, the timing was perfect.

Community connections with perfect timing

At Hyla’s upper school, Rufo-Hill was teaching an advanced course, “Global Warming: Understanding the Issues,” offered through Hyla’s “UW in the High School” partnership with the University of Washington.

Through the partnership, Rufo-Hill teaches a college-level curriculum and students earn college credits. “Ending with a hands-on project with relevant impact in our community is ideal because our students don’t wait for someone else to take action,” he says. “This project allows them to turn their knowledge to immediate action.”

To map out the project scope and design, Hyla students worked with Eco-Adapt and WSF Chief Sustainability Officer, Kevin Bartoy. The new overhead walkway at the Bainbridge terminal will soon feature window displays with infographics representing sea levels at different future time stamps, along with QR codes to a student-made website with more data. Beyond education, the project goal is to inspire action and prevent further damage.

Hands-on, impact-based projects are at the core of all classes at Hyla School, which offers an experiential learning program for Grades 6 to 12 on two Bainbridge campuses. In addition to UW courses, Hyla offers multiple options for advanced learning, including AP classes.

To learn more about Hyla’s personalized approach and signature programs, visit hylaschool.org.

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