By: Ava H.
NAV Garden for Girls is a non-profit in Chicago that focuses on teaching underprivileged elementary school girls science and women empowerment through fun after-school activities. During quarantine, the organization has put together creative activities for their girls to stay productive at home.
1.) When did you first become interested in environmental science?
Nia: I first became interested in environmental science because of one of my closest friends Sofy Paulson. I remember bringing a snack for afterschool in a plastic bag and she started explaining to me the effects. I went home that night and did research on what Sofy was talking about and quickly saw it was more than just a plastic bag. It was a bag that was going to contribute to carbon emissions, waste in our oceans, and affect our wildlife.
Alex: Ever since I was a young girl, I was a major science nerd. I played in the dirt at the playground and was fascinated by the insects. Growing up, I’ve always known I was going to pursue science or medicine, so the subject just stuck with me; I never grew out of it. It wasn’t until starting NAV that my passion for science evolved into my interest in environmental science. Teaching lessons on climate change and how we can save our planet and seeing young girls start to understand and reflect on the material they were learning is what made me want to make a difference. Outside of teaching environmental science at NAV, I’ve started using less plastic, recycling more, cutting out red meat, and shopping sustainably.
2.) What exactly inspired you to teach environmental science specifically to other kids?
NAV started as a biology project and including science was a requirement. We didn’t initially focus on climate change and environmental education, but in 2018 we began bringing in guests to NAV to educate our students on climate change. We have brought in the Illinois Youth climate movement, a parent to teach a compost lesson, and a Whitney Young Biology teacher to talk about how climate change has impacted both us humans and animals. We soon began to realize the importance of environmentalism and the climate crisis. We have educated ourselves on the movement and have become more passionate.
3.)What do some of your lessons include?
Some of our favorite lessons are:
Climate Change and Global Warming
Animals in a garden
We often bring in speakers to help teach these lessons. So far, we have had the IL Youth Climate Movement, Golden Apple teacher Todd Katz, and a parent of one of our members who taught the girls how to compost. We’re excited for this upcoming year and have many new programs and speakers joining us! Along with environmental science and STEM lessons, we also teach women’s empowerment and arts & crafts - more information on these lessons can be found on our website (navgardenforgirls.com) under “Our Program”!
4.) What was it like to host several environmentalists to teach girls about climate change?
It's been a very rewarding experience especially when we have teen guests. It’s wonderful to know how much work our generation is doing to help the environment because in the end we only have one planet.
5.) During your 2 years of operating, what have been the biggest challenges? Greatest successes?
Our biggest challenges so far have been spreading the word about our program and making sure people (both teens and adults) take NAV seriously. NAV Garden For Girls began as a Biology service project during our freshman year in high school (2017-2018). From there, we took the project and created an organization. At first, only our friends from school and Biology teacher knew what we were doing, which made it difficult for us to involve girls from other schools across Chicago. Using social media and word of mouth, we started to grow the program and saw girls from so many different schools apply to NAV. We have also been featured on ABC 7, which definitely helped get our message out around Chicago.
Another challenge we have faced, and are still facing to this day, is making sure our members and even adults are taking our program seriously. NAV was initially made up of just our friends and a few people from our school and for this reason, our friends didn’t treat us like we were running an organization. They didn’t understand that it wasn’t okay for them to not listen to us; they thought that because we were friends, it didn’t matter. Over time, this issue has gotten better but we are still working towards being taken seriously and treated professionally by both teens and adults.
Our greatest success has been growing the program overall. When we started NAV as a Biology project, we never would’ve thought that it would grow to become a citywide nonprofit organization with over 20 members, a partnership with a school, and over 15 collaborations and interviews. Seeing our progress throughout the past 2.5 years shocks us, but also makes us proud; we’re so happy to be able to look back and say, “Wow. We did all of that.”
6.) What are your dreams regarding the environmental science program?
By teaching environmental science to these young girls, we’re hoping that they can grow up with the knowledge of climate change and use that knowledge to change and eventually save the planet. Our reason for teaching such young girls (1st and 2nd grade) is because THEIR generation is the future. It is up to them to save our planet; we are just laying the foundation so they have the necessary tools to do so. A dream for both of us is that these girls start to show growth throughout the program and show understanding of what they are learning.
7.) How can people help your cause?
We appreciate all of the support and love we have been given thus far on our journey with NAV! We’d greatly appreciate any donations made through PayPal (https://www.paypal.me/navgardenforgirls) and support on our social media. Follow our Instagram @navgardenforgirls and check out our website navgardenforgirls.com. To get involved, feel free to contact us email@example.com, and if you are hoping to become a member, apply in November (applications will be posted on our Instagram and website)!
8.) Is there any advice you would give to other young people who care about improving environmental education and want to help change the world, like you are?
The best advice we can give to anyone hoping to get involved in environmental education and making an impact in their community is to educate yourself on what you want to change and teach, along with persevering through difficult times. NAV Garden For Girls has faced many setbacks, but we pushed through them and wouldn’t have gotten to where we are today without doing so.
Thank you so much to NAV for partaking in this interview, we wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors!!