School Clubs Help Students Face Conservation Challenges

Group of students sitting on floor in circle

Environmental challenges can be solved when the right people work together, but for the young person who wants to contribute to conservation, it can be hard to figure out where to start. For college and high school students, that question of where to begin can be especially daunting. Students tend to have a limited sphere of influence, limited resources at their disposal, and limited experience with activism. These factors are constraining, but not prohibitive. In fact, there are a lot of advantages to starting your activism career while still in school—for one thing, you're working in a smaller community full of people eager to do something. And if you don't have experience organizing a community, this is the perfect time to start gaining some. One way student Panda Ambassadors are doing this is by starting WWF clubs in their schools.

"As a first-year college student without many resources, I didn't know the best way to fit in to the Panda Ambassador program," says Madelyn Davis, a Panda Ambassador and student at Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island. "I had read all these feature stories on the amazing things other Panda Ambassadors were doing," says Madelyn. "I wanted to be just like them. So, I decided to use the little community I was a part of at school to begin a club, so that like-minded students could join and we could raise awareness and support for WWF's mission together."

In Texas, Panda Ambassador Annabel Clark started a WWF club as a senior in high school with similar motivation. "Many of my peers had mentioned to me that they were interested in wildlife conservation or just helping the environment in general, but they didn't know where to begin," she says. She decided to create an educational club for her peers, as a "starting place for getting involved."

WWF school clubs can take a number of forms. They can be primarily educational, or focused on fundraising, or community activities, or a combination of all three. Annabel's club, for instance, has a primarily educational focus. "I knew that the first step in helping a certain species was understanding exactly what its threats were," she says. "For that reason, I wanted the club meetings to be mostly educational and discussion-based." Annabel's club would study a species in depth, employing documentaries and guest speakers, and then organize a small project to raise awareness about that species with the rest of the school.

"The most significant project we did as a club was plant milkweed around our high school for monarch butterflies," Annabel recalls. "I wanted to organize a local project for the club, and since monarch butterfly migration goes right through Texas, this project was particularly successful."

Though Annabel has since graduated from high school, the WWF club she started continues. "I am so happy that the club is still running well and recruiting more people," Annabel says. The club is so successful it's even spread beyond her former high school—this year the local middle school also established a WWF club.

Back in Rhode Island, Madelyn's WWF club also seeks to educate its members on conservation issues, and includes fundraising, activity planning, and leadership components. The club constitution states that prospective club members "will learn how to become leaders in their community through planning events to raise money and bringing awareness to issues which pertain to all of us."

"The WWF club was the first club [at Johnson & Wales University] to specifically focus on conservation," Madelyn says. In addition to smaller projects, like staffing booths and tables at community events, Madelyn's club is currently focused on educational outreach to elementary school students about local wildlife. The club is also hoping to hold a 3K race next year to fundraise for WWF.

Panda Ambassadors interested in starting clubs at their schools can find out more by reading WWF's how-to guide, or can take up the topic with their student council to find out what's required.

"It is really inspiring to see fellow Panda Ambassadors beginning clubs at their own universities," Madelyn says. "Being a part of the WWF family has shown me the kind of influence we can have when we work together as a community."