An Ellis education doesn’t start and stop at the classroom door. Instead, that education extends to students’ clubs, their free time, and even their work in the community. It inspires students to think about how to address issues in the real world—and how to do so effectively. The Ellis Environmental Club takes this learning to heart, bringing their knowledge and passion to projects that aim to better their communities, educate their peers, and help them prepare for their own futures.
"One of our main goals is to educate the whole school about the ways in which you can be more sustainable,” says Environmental Club Treasurer Natalie Ficca, Class of 2024. "My time here has educated me and then allowed me to go out and educate other people. The people who helped me get interested were other club members and teachers, and you want to become that kind of person when you see someone doing something good.”
The Environmental Club has hosted numerous on-campus events, like Earth Day activities during free periods. But they’ve taken on much bigger initiatives, too.
The club worked with Upper School English Teacher Leah Brennan to run a mini-course, open to students in grades 9–11, about how to address litter and other everyday problems to support a cleaner environment. They are planning a clothing swap to encourage students to maintain a sustainable wardrobe, and they planted trees in Frick Park this fall—one of several similar planting or clean-up events Ellis students will do in the community this year.
Environmental Club Vice President Grace Boyer, Class of 2023, says this kind of teamwork reinforces a sense of community among student environmental activists.
"This work is tiring and it's hard to do on your own,” she says. "Having a group and being able to support and learn from each other—as well as learning from others who are more knowledgeable and have been doing this longer—is inspirational. It’s comforting to know that others are out there.”
Upper School Spanish Teacher Jack Gaddess, who co-advises the club with Upper School Biology Teacher Kassandra Wadsworth, said these club projects provide valuable real-world problem-solving experiences.
"The projects help students realize how complicated a lot of issues are,” he says. "You realize that projects take time, energy, and resources. This teaches them to look at cause and effect, because even when you have the best intentions, there can be consequences. There’s a lot to consider, and this teaches them how to work through that.”
Mr. Gaddess includes environmental lessons in his Spanish classes, where he asks students to look at projects Green Peace is working on in Mexico. Students consider the factors that lead to declining animal populations, efforts to use less plastic, and deforestation, as well as the similarities between these issues at home and abroad.
“We’ve looked at the tension between job creation and protecting the environment, which is also something you see here in the United States,” he says. "That discussion of, 'Can you create jobs and protect the environment, and what does that look like? Who are the winners and losers?’ That’s pretty real stuff for a 17-year-old to get their head around and ponder, and they do think about it and take it seriously.”
Students find inspiration at the crossroads between their classroom work and their club activities. Environmental Club Secretary Nadia Commodore, Class of 2024, says her inspiration stems from a fear of losing things that are taken for granted, like clean air and water. Fellow junior and Environmental Club President Franny LaRoche agrees, noting that she’s worried about losing access to National Parks due to climate change. Grace is looking at college engineering programs that would allow her to focus on environmentalism, and she credits Ellis for motivating her to do so.
“That’s something I have to thank Ellis for,” Grace says. “I’ve heard this education described as holistic, but I feel like what distinguishes it from other schools is how much it’s related to current issues. Ellis is very focused on problem solving, and on relating what we learn to what we’ll be doing in real life.”