Green Heart Challenge Idea Incubator Advances Student Campaigns on Climate Action

For two weeks in June, members of the CPF team worked with the winning student teams from the Clayton County Public Schools Climate Justice Challenge: Green Heart Edition to refine their campaign ideas for change – and begin putting them into action. 

The Green Heart Challenge Idea Incubator led students through a 10-day process of campaign development and coaching. It also included practicing the professional skills necessary to pitch their campaigns & change-making ideas to the decision makers in their schools and school district. Twenty-five students, grades 5th-12th, participated in the session.

CPF Team Member Courtney Kimmel
briefs students before they start work

The theme for the 2023 Climate Justice Green Heart Challenge was the Planeteer EARTH Element, focusing on environmental challenges relating to food, soil, and forests. All five winning teams developed campaigns focused on cafeteria waste and/ or access to fresh fruits and vegetables that students WANT to eat. Proposed solutions included: establishing school gardens; working with the school’s nutrition staff to prepare vegetables in new and different ways; incentivizing students to try new fruits and vegetables; and establishing composting and recycling systems in the schools and across the school district.

As a culminating event, each team was invited to present their proposals to decision makers at the district level of Clayton County Public Schools, as well as a representative from CPF as the funder of small implementation grants. CPF awarded the two elementary schools an implementation grant for Project Learning Garden (5 raised garden beds, garden and lesson supplies, and a mobile cooking cart) to advance their plans.

Elite Scholars, the Middle School winners, were also awarded raised beds and a mobile cooking cart to advance their project. The Drew High School team’s pitch was strong enough to earn a pledge of funding – if the team can secure their Principal’s commitment of support. 

On the final day of the Idea Incubator, all of the Idea Incubator participants, as well as 25 college students interning with CPF this summer as part of the ECYC program, joined forces to install the elementary gardens at Unidos Dual Language School and Huie Elementary School. The gardens will be utilized for cultivating fresh produce for each school’s student body.

Students haul bags of soil at the Unidos
Dual Language School garden installation

After the installation, the winning teams were asked to reflect on their experience with the Idea Incubator as well as their career aspirations after having taken part in the program. Students highlighted meetings with stakeholders and professional etiquette courses as key to their development. Many individuals also valued the hands-on nature of several events, giving them essential skills for the future, including the garden implementation and directly working with professionals. Of the career interests mentioned, students found strong passions in STEM and leadership roles – such as dentistry, government, marine biology, and environmental non-profit work.

When asked about important lessons taught from the Idea Incubator, one student summarized her thoughts as, “Everyone should try to make their communities better.”

Next year’s Green Heart Challenge will focus on Environmental Justice challenges related to the WATER Element (ocean health, lake and freshwater health, mangrove and reef health) and will be open to student teams grades 6th-12th across the US beginning in mid-September. To learn more, visit the link below:

Students install a garden bed at Unidos
Dual Language School
GHC Idea Incubator students and ECYC interns take a group photo at Unidos Dual Language School
ECYC interns take a break from the garden installation to strike a pose!