2022 | Schools

Students at Julius West Middle rally to raise awareness of climate change on Earth Day 

13-year-old has been organizing regular Friday gatherings since fifth grade 

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Photo by Dan Schere

Julius West Middle School’s 1,500 students took to the athletic field Friday morning, some bearing signs with messages such as “There Is No Planet B,” and “I was hoping for a cooler death,” to raise awareness of global warming on Earth Day. 

The rally at the Rockville school is one of several events held in Montgomery County to commemorate Earth Day. The annual day is meant to urge environmental sustainability and started on April 22, 1970. 

Students gathered on the field at 8:20 a.m. Friday and rallied for about 40 minutes. Eighth-grader Rosie Clemans-Cope, a budding climate activist, led the rally, urging them to chant “no more coal. No more oil. Keep the carbon in the soil.” She was joined by a few other students who spoke during the rally. 

Clemans-Cope told Bethesda Beat before the event that she and other student leaders have several demands they have laid out in a petition to Montgomery County Public Schools, including switching to all renewable energy and having solar panels on every rooftop.  

MCPS was purchasing 38% of its electricity from renewable energy sources as of last year, according to the school system’s website. However, that number has increased steadily from 5% in 2005 – the year MCPS started buying renewable energy credits. 

There are also 17 MCPS schools that have installed solar photovoltaic systems, according to the school system. 

Clemans-Cope has been organizing climate demonstrations as part of the international Fridays for Future climate movement since fifth grade. She said the gatherings have grown from about 10 people initially, to more than 100 at some that she’s organized this school year. Friday’s schoolwide event was the 18th demonstration she’s organized this academic year. 

“Mostly students are not taught in school the urgency of the climate crisis. Like, they might learn about climate change,” she said. “They might know what it is. But they don’t know that it will affect our futures directly over the next few years if we don’t act now.” 

Clemans-Cope told Bethesda Magazine last year that she was inspired to get involved in the environmental movement three years ago after watching teenage activist Greta Thunberg hold a solo climate strike in Sweden. 

Clemans-Cope was joined by fellow students Kevin Achtmeyer and Jahnavi Sabnis during Friday’s rally. Achtmeyer, a sixth grader, told the crowd gathered Friday that the task to save the planet “rests on our shoulders.” 

Previous generations “could have stopped climate change.  But the task to save humanity was ignored by every generation before us,” he said. 

Achtmeyer, 12, told Bethesda Beat after the event that he enjoys hiking outdoors and became interested in the environment when he saw a campsite covered in garbage. He said not all of his classmates are as passionate about climate change as he is, but he hopes activities such as Friday’s rally will help raise awareness. 

“Some of them think this is a joke. Some of them don’t really care,” he said. “It’s really unfortunate because they’re the ones that are going to be suffering from this.” 

Sabnis, 13, said she has cared about the wellbeing of animals since she was in first grade, and that sparked her interest in climate change. 

“More recently I realized that it’s not just animals that are affected. It’s people as well,” she said. 

Amanda Plunkett, a seventh and eighth grade teacher, told Bethesda Beat after the event that seeing so many children get behind a cause gave her hope. 

“I thought it was inspiring to see all the kids come together to support a cause that will have such a big impact on their future,” she said. 

Principal Craig Staton said he’s been impressed with the way the Friday climate rallies have grown throughout the school year. 

“It started small, and it culminated into a great day, Earth Day, where we got the whole school involved. Any time you can get the whole school involved, it’s a great effort,” he said. 

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com