Student Takes Initiative to Start EARTH Program at Wayzata High School

High school junior starts climate concern group.

Saee Patil started the EARTH program in 2015 after noticing the subtle misuse of resources at her school: lights were being left on unnecessarily and recycling wasn’t utilized properly. Patil, a junior at Wayzata High School, decided to take action. She approached the faculty about starting a group that addresses environmental concerns and raises awareness. Biology teacher Mark Sonderup agreed to serve as faculty advisor for the group, but EARTH has been a student-run organization from the very beginning.

“Saee responded to what she saw as a major issue. She organized the whole thing, from finding other group members to arranging meetings,” says Sonderup.

Patil divided the group’s agenda into three manageable parts which include compost, paper use and lights. Her first step was speaking with the janitorial staff who could provide insight on the treatment of waste. A significant amount of recyclable and compostable material ended up in the trash, according to the janitors. Another office worker shared that paper waste was high due to a lack of conservation when printing documents. Patil then met with Power Education to learn about the school’s energy usage.

“Obviously, I didn’t get access to their exact numbers or data since I’m just a student,” Patil says with a laugh. “But they were great about meeting with me to discuss general proportional usage.”

After narrowing in on specific issues, she recruited members and divided the group into three committees. A research committee takes an in-depth look into relevant issues and possible solutions, a promotions committee works to spread the organization’s message and attract more students to the cause, and a volunteering committee takes action within the school and community.

EARTH also arranges a monthly guest to speak before their meetings, which have doubled in attendees since the start. They also received several awards for their work, including the National Energy Education Development Award and 36th Annual Youth Awards for Energy Achievement.

"It took about a year for our club to get organized, but now we have a good structure. It helps to have speakers and promotions because it motivates the students to care about the cause," says Cathy Yu, a senior at Wayzata High School.

"We hope to expand our membership so more people join and we can help convert our building fully to renewable energy."

The group’s primary goal is to help people understand climate issues and that the problem is not short term, instead requiring consistent and collective efforts. Patil encourages everyone to use energy saving lightbulbs, turn off faucets and lights that aren’t being used, read city brochures on separating waste  and wash cars at home instead of at a carwash. She hopes these simple tips are easy for anyone to follow, though she admits not everyone recognizes the importance of EARTH and isn’t looking to force her cause on anyone.  

“I’ve learned that yelling at people won’t make them understand you. We want the group to be something fun that people want to participate in,” says Patil.

Still, she hopes the concern can be taken more seriously on a large scale. According to Patil, the root of the problem is an off-balanced distribution of resources. Being more open-minded to alternative options, especially apart from oil or coal, could drastically improve the future of our climate.

“We’ll reach a point when we’ll have to realize all the mistakes we’ve been making. It would be horrible if future generations didn’t even know what the Amazon rainforest was,” says Patil. “I want to see our beautiful planet preserved.”