For Cisco Van Derhoff and Bay White, a recent school project involved rallying dozens of people and taking aim at a global issue.
The two Gustavus third-graders organized a march Friday to join forces with children around the country who marched out of school March 15 to demand action on climate change. In a phone interview Friday, Van Derhoff said he heard about the marches from his friend Greg and wanted to try and organize a similar event in Gustavus.
A week later, Van Derhoff and White led more than 80 people through the streets of Gustavus holding signs demanding action. The community’s population is 440, according to the 2017 census, meaning that the march’s turnout was just under 20 percent of the town.
Van Derhoff said putting the march together was more work than he originally thought.
“There are so many little steps, all those little steps led up to this big big event,” Cisco said, “and it was really worth it.”
The two 9-year-olds, who are in homeschool, both said they’ve seen winters get warmer in recent years and have watched as snow turns to rain. Sybil Van Derhoff, Cisco’s mother and their homeschool teacher, said the boys were originally going to end their current science unit with a different final project.
The original final project was putting together a brochure about climate change in Alaska to hand out to cruise passengers, but when Cisco heard about the marches around the country, he and White started pushing to change their final project.
“They were so fired up that they talked me into changing the final project and doing this instead,” Sybil said. “It’s been really sweet to watch and very humbling to see two little kids that are fired up about an issue can really rally a lot of support in this town.”
The boys said they hope more students around Southeast take action and express that they care about the environment’s future. They’ve been spreading the word already. The night before the march, they talked on the phone with Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau. A few hours after the march, they spoke over the phone with Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau. The boys said it was exciting to talk with people who were in such high positions in the state.
The event also featured Zach Brown, executive director of the Inian Islands Institute, who gave a speech to the youngsters about how they can make a difference. The Inian Islands Institute is a nonprofit that seeks to educate children in Southeast and beyond about taking care of the environment. The boys said Brown’s speech focused on the fact that the future is “not the grownups’ future, it’s mainly the kids’ future.”
Iris White, 13, who took photos and helped with the event, said the Earth’s future belongs to more than just this generation of children.
“I think it’s really important because it’s all our futures and this is our future we’re fighting for, and our kids and grandkids,” Iris said. “It’s really important that we have a good world to grow up in.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.