SILVER SPRING – One hundred fifty Northwood and Montgomery Blair High School students walked out of their classes and marched down busy Colesville Road on Sept. 20, carrying signs and chanting, “Whose water, Our water… Whose planet, our planet.”
They joined students throughout the county, who packed the Metro into Washington, D.C., to join an international climate strike protest that was student-led.
“I really care about the environment. Basically, if we don’t do something about this climate crisis now, effectively much of the Eastern Seaboard is going to. be underwater in 30 years,” Charles Thrush, a Montgomery Blair junior, said.“I have a lot of family in Louisiana. That area is ground zero. It’s going to be an island.”.
Under Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) policy, the students received an unexcused absence, even if their parents had permitted them and informed the school that they were okay with them leaving class.
Attending class was Thrush’s last concern.
“I think it’s a worthy cause,” he said. “It’s kind of a more accepted thing. A lot of teachers are okay with it.”
County Executive Marc Elrich agreed, writing to the school board and superintendent, asking that the students’ absences be excused.
In a Sept. 17 letter, Elrich asked that “MCPS students be allowed to have an excused absence to attend the Climate Strike rally” as long as they submitted a photo showing they did attend the rally and handed in a summary of the event.”He included in his letter the five demands MoCo Students for Climate are hoping the school district will embrace. They are asking that no new school buildings “contribute to any new greenhouse gas emissions” and that current buildings be retrofitted and their energy use reduced.
The students also want MCPS to “immediately apply for the three free electric buses available to it” and to buy only electric buses in the future.
Students joining the walkout said they hoped politicians would hear them and create policies to counteract the effects of climate change.
Several talked about recycling, taking public transportation, not littering and conserving water as things they could do. However, they said, they need politicians to step up and do more.
“We want our voices to be heard,” said Ashley Villatoro, a junior at Northwood High School.
“There are no gray areas when it comes to survival,” said Bea Lehman, a junior.
As the students marched, a group of county police officers provided a motorcycle escort.
Luca Utterwulghe, an 11th grader at Albert Einstein High School, said about 70 to 90 people from his high school attended the events in Washington, D.C.
“They all came out for a reason, and not just to have fun,” he said.
He thought the speakers were enlightening, especially concerning the indigenous people, who are “extremely affected,” Utterwulghe said. “It was a different perspective.”
The teenager said he attended, because, “It’s my future, and I don’t like to watch the adults stand by.”
He added, “It shouldn’t be our job as students, but I feel it is.”
Utterwulghe blamed the lack of action on big business and political-interest money.
“This shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” he said.
Isabel Serrano of Northwood High School returned from the march emotionally drained.
“To be honest, it’s tiring, but I knew I had to do it,” she said, adding this was her third protest for reducing climate change.“I always go, and I always hope for a change.”
“It’s like they don’t hear us, and it’s frustrating,” she said of the national politicians. “Hopefully, someone will step up to the plate and tackle the issue.”
She scoffed at the attitude that fossil fuels and not renewable energy is where the money is.
“We can still get success and flourish,” Serrano said. “We need to tell Congress, fossil fuels are damaging the earth, and at some point, we are going to run out.”
Calls for the use of renewable energy that fail and “fall on deaf ears” continues to baffle the student. Serrano said she believes there is a great deal of support to reduce emissions and work to clean up the environment.
At gun-control marches, there are always counterprotesters, but at the climate strike, Serrano said she did not see a single person against the movement.
“I didn’t see one person counter-protest against climate change, and why would you? It’s a scientific fact,” she said. “I hope this is the last time I skip school for this. I shouldn’t have to be doing this, but I have to.”