Think Globally, Act Locally: South’s First Year At UNESCO Conference

Photo by UNESCO students

Lucy Kim
News Reporter

Newton South High School was selected to participate in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) conference, which gave five students the opportunity to tackle the ever increasing issue of climate change.

The group comprised of seniors Noah Kopf, Krish Maypole, Kiki Vetoulis-Acevedo, juniors Mia Calderone and John Floros, and co-advisors, language teacher Stephanie Pavao and science teacher Molly Widrick, returned last Sunday after spending ten days in Portugal.

At the UNESCO conference Newton South, the only school representing the United States, was joined by schools from around the world, including Spain, Andorra, Germany, Italy, Brazil, Cape Verde Islands, and Japan.

The motto of the conference, “think globally, act locally”, allowed the students to think about the conference theme, climate change, in a global perspective, and then create a project to do locally in regards to the global factors.

Pavao explained that the trip was broken into two parts.

“Half of the trip was historical and cultural: getting to know more about the history of Portugal, seeing some of the major landmarks, and experiencing the culture of Portugal,” Pavao said. “Then there was the conference side of the trip, which lasted for four days.”

The students from each schools were instructed to create a project focusing on ways to prevent the further continuation of climate change and bring the results and informations to share at the conference.

During the conference, the students from each country reported on their projects and how they conducted their plans in their own communities. Afterwards, the students broke up into smaller groups to process and choose ideas from earlier reports to utilize in their own work.

Widrick believes that after all schools presented their projects, “the biggest theme that emerged from all of the groups is that we have to better educate the younger generations because they are the ones who are going to make the biggest impact and they are going to be impacted the most. We are all connected and therefore, we have to all try to make a difference if we are going to find any solution.”

South students titled their project World Wide Web and focused to illustrate the connection between all the continents within the world and how the consequences of a Massachusetts citizen’s actions can impact India or the Great Barrier Reef.

Before the students left, junior Mia Calderone explains how the group “painted a 50 feet reef on recycled cardboard that was along the walls of the 1000’s and had the tree standing up along the staircase and strung the notecards from students as the leaves of the trees.”

In addition to this tree and reef, Calderone says that she and the four other students also created youtube videos introducing their project and interviews with other students’ about their thoughts on the issue of climate change.

Calderone says that though coming up with an idea for the project was difficult due to the fact that climate change remains a broad topic, once they find one topic, the group was unstoppable.

“We were looking at recent news on climate change and the dying coral reef came up, and we wanted to do something around that because we thought it was an interesting topic that not a lot of people heard about but probably should,” Calderone said. “Then we thought how does the reed in Australia affect us here, and that got the ball rolling.”

One of the selected students, junior John Floros, explains how this project contains a deeper, metaphorical meaning behind its initial visual prominence and beauty.

“The tree which is supposed to be from Massachusetts drawing it down, connecting it to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Even though people might not see it at first, it’s physically showing the connection of the students’ ideas and the students’ voices,” said Floros.

Though climate change remains a complicated issue with no apparent solution, Pavao says that any kind of conversations around the topic itself serves as a productive first step.

“Each of the students’ project, in a very unique and individual way, was able to further the conversation and bring awareness to their communities, which are all positive steps to the issue,” Pavao said.

The awareness and accumulation of ideas that conferences like the UNESCO conference produces on climate change can quicken the development of a solution to this increasingly troublesome issue.

 South plans on attending next year’s UNESCO conference and both Pavao and Widrick remain excited for what the new group of students has to offer to the community.

“This year was very particular about environmental change and climate change, so [students in] the environmental classes and bio-science classes were interested,” Widrick said. “This [next year] seems to be more of social science, so we are going to be looking for more history students, which could bring, potentially, a different approach to how the project unfolds and of course, different personalities.”

Information about the UNESCO trip can be found on Pavao’s website,, and more specific information will be provided in the spring during informational meetings.