Houston teens take their fight for clean air to Washington, D.C.

Houston-area students from EDF’s Environmental Youth Council visited Washington, D.C., to learn about the ways that the policies that affect them and their families are negotiated.

A trip from Houston to Washington, D.C., was the exclamation point at the end of the first year of EDF’s Environmental Youth Council program.

Through the program, students attending Pasadena Memorial High School, Galena Park High School and Raul Yzaguirre School for Success — all located on the east side of Houston near the heavy industry located up and down the busy Houston Ship Channel — have committed to learning about environmental health, air quality and public policy and advocacy.

EDF was excited to take this first cohort of students to the nation’s capital to explore the city, learn more about organizations working on environmental issues and gain a better understanding of how legislative representatives create the policies that impact their lives.

The group of 12 students and three chaperones hit the ground running. One of the first stops was at the Environmental Protection Agency. Staffers and interns talked to the students about environmental justice and the importance of educating and empowering communities, careers in the field and the value of internships and networking.

The students then stopped by EDF’s D.C. office to grab pizza and hear from staffers about how and why they do what they do. Melissa Vargas, the leader of EDF’s Latino Engagement and Partnerships team, spoke about the importance of diversity in the field of environmental health and stressed that the students should find ways to turn their uniqueness into a competitive advantage.

“I learned that there are so many great opportunities for me and that I have people who will be able to back me up,” Karina, a graduating senior, would say after the trip. “I hope that I’ll be able to take on an internship in the EDF offices to expand my career horizons and participate along with others to change the world.”

The next stop, at Congress to meet with Rep. Sylvia Garcia, was the highlight of the trip. Rep. Garcia, a Democrat from Texas, represents the Houston communities where these students and their families live and go to school. She encouraged the students to continue to learn more about the environment and the policies that affect it. After a few selfies with the congresswoman, the students were led on a private tour of the Capitol.


Between their meetings, the group made sure to find time for sightseeing — they stopped for selfies in front of the White House and visited the Arlington National Cemetery, memorials for President Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. and several Smithsonian museums and art galleries.

It had been a busy semester for the students. The Environmental Youth Council program, supported by the Gulf Research Program, is an educational program for high-school-age youth from communities in Houston that are most affected by high levels of air pollution. Since January 2019, the students have participated in science-based learning with a curriculum focusing on environmental health and climate issues that is paired with a speaker series with local leaders in the field, student-organized town hall meetings about environmental concerns, field trips and the Houston Teens Care About Clean Air video contest, where the students’ videos drew thousands of views.

A trip to Washington, D.C., helped one Houston-area EDF Environmental Youth Council program student realize she wanted to educate her community about the connection between governmental policy and environmental health. Click To Tweet

The program strives to provide students with the education and inspiration necessary to become the next generation of leaders building healthy and resilient communities. Now, EDF is excited to bring in a second cohort of students for the 2019-2020 school year. That means new faces, voices and stories, another video contest and more innovative, hands-on opportunities for the students to learn about ways they can turn their passion for the environment and their health into actions that will make a difference.

Already, the impact is clear. “Visiting Washington, D.C., helped me decide to venture into political science in college,” Karina said when she arrived with her cohort back in Houston, “and I realized that I want to go out into communities to educate others, not just about the environment but also about its political aspects.”

This entry was posted in Air Pollution, Environmental Justice, Houston and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.