It’s lunch break on a Thursday at Boca Raton High School, and a group of students are gathered in a classroom—they’re brainstorming how to save the world.
For the TREE Club, there’s beach cleanups to be planned, outreach to the city of Boca Raton to organize a tree planting, or getting permits to kayak through Gumbo Limbo to pick up trash in the mangroves. They’ve applied for grants, pitched green initiatives to the School Board, attended city council meetings—and the teens plan it all between math and Spanish classes.
“It’s a community service club that’s built on community, charity and good times,” says Luke Lynch, the founder of the club, who is now a freshman at American University in Washington, D.C. “Although we’re environmentally based and we’ve had a lot of success in those initiatives, we’ll never fail to understand that the reasons of our success for beach cleanups and tree plantings come down to how we treat one another and that respect we build as a culture.”
An acronym for Taking Responsibility for the Earth and the Environment, the TREE Club was an offshoot of the school’s Environmental Club that was founded in 2016. With this club, students adopted parks, won grants to purchase water refill stations and more recycle bins for the school, had the outdoor lighting replaced with energy-efficient LED lights, and were recognized for their sustainability efforts.
Another club, called Our Planet, is registered as 501(c)(3) to promote sustainable agriculture and raising money for the Peruvian rainforest. On campus, there’s an aquaponics garden housing 100 blue tilapia and an herb and vegetable garden—the produce is donated to Boca Helping Hands.
Dr. Rachel Wellman, one of the advisers for the students, has led international field trips so students can experience all that they’ve been learning and advocating for—last summer, she and her husband chaperoned 10 students to the Galapagos in Ecuador, and in 2017 they went on a trip to Peru.
“It makes it more real,” Wellman says. “It’s kind of like doing the hands-on activities in the classroom, but really going out in the real world and seeing it with your own eyes and not just reading it in a textbook or seeing it on a PowerPoint.”
But beyond the environmental initiatives that the green clubs take on, they’re also preparing themselves for “the real world”—they’ve written up 75-page applications, had meetings with city officials, given presentations, learned to draft emails, and seen projects through from beginning to end.
“What they have done is truly inspiring and brings many of us hope that this generation will help us turn things around for the better of humanity,” Wellman says of the students. “I’m so blessed to be a teacher, mentor and guide to these wonderful students who have the drive to make a difference for social change, environmental change, positivity and fellowship.”
Students also partner with other clubs—like the art club—to help with their marketing and promotions, as well as nonprofits around town. Since they work together on their green projects, the students will turn around and help the nonprofits who helped them, such as volunteering at the soup kitchen at Boca Helping Hands. They’re also partnered with the Boca Raton Police Department, PROPEL, Key Club, Coastal Connection and more.
Looking forward, the club is talking to other high schools around town with the goal for them to create green clubs of their own.
“It’s planting the seeds in every single individual. We hope that students take those TREE Club lessons they’ve learned and plant trees in their own community when they go off to college,” Lynch says.