The American School in SwitzerlandThe American School in Switzerland

On September 20, 2019, millions of students and workers in more than 100 nations walked out of their schools or workplaces and took to the streets to demand an end to the age of fossil fuels. While TASIS understands the intent behind this global climate strike and sympathizes with those who chose to participate, the School opted to move forward with its own Day of Climate Action—an intentional and educational approach designed to help each student reflect upon how we can all be better stewards of the environment. 

“Inspired by the vision of its faculty, TASIS chose to dedicate a day to classroom instruction in all subjects and all grade levels on environmental issues followed by specific actions, such as launching improvements to the School's recycling program, that can help move TASIS closer to carbon neutrality,” Headmaster Christopher Nikoloff said. “These initiatives are in keeping with Mrs. Fleming's dream of TASIS playing a role in making the world a better place."

Day of Climate Action, Week of Climate Activism

On the morning of September 20, the High School held a special assembly that featured a video of Greta Thunberg addressing the United Nations, introductory remarks from the Headmaster, and an engaging keynote presentation by Dr. William Sawyer, a senior computational scientist at the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre who has worked tirelessly to inform the public about the need for drastic action to address climate change. TASIS seniors Daisy Bachofen ’20 and Ella Hauptman ’20 spoke about the importance of recycling and conservation, and a preview of follow-up events provided by TASIS Green Team leaders Dr. Jill Sawyer-Price, Valerie Bijur Carlson, and Keith Izsa. The day’s events even made the local RSI news program Il Quotidiano! (See the News archive on our website to watch.)

The Day of Climate Action was followed by a week of awareness and activism (a throwback to Environmental Week; see below) with several anchor events, including a sustainable foods-themed dinner, a community nature run, and the installation of new recycling bins around campus, all designed to foster collaboration among teachers, administrators, and students. 

Our Elementary School science students debated food chain situations, weather phenomena, and human impact. ES art students made climate change signposts to plant around campus and drew “I love my planet” pictures, and math students examined mathematical data that supports the science behind climate change.

Middle School English students collected dying plants and replanted them, brought in plants from home to care for, and created a garden theme in their classroom. Art students created flowers made from plastic bottles.

Our High School science students calculated their personal carbon footprints, examined how climate change affects transpiration in plants, and studied atmosphere modeling. Theater students did a Broadway Green Alliance exploration and acted out environmentally-themed monologues and scenes. Spanish students prepared oral presentations about climate change. And photography students created the wonderful poster.

Earth Week 2002

The Original TASIS Eco Warrior

Howard Stickley had TASIS thinking eco long before it was en vogue. Howard came to TASIS in 1981, in the early days of environmental awareness. Not long before that, he had taken environmental sciences courses at university in the UK at a time when there was only one part-time environmental newspaper reporter in the whole country. “Few people knew anything about the environment in those days,” he recalls. He explains below how he grew the activism movement at TASIS.

A love of the outdoors, a concern for the environment, and humanitarian issues have been an important part of my time at TASIS, and shaped my involvement with trips into the great outdoors, environmental education, and confronting poverty and inequality through development. Jay Long and I organised the first Environmental Awareness Day in the early 80s, and the Ethiopian famine led to me organising a Famine Awareness Day a few years later. 

The TASIS Environment Club was created around that time as an after-school activity with numerous trips and activities in the local area with the World Wildlife Fund. By 1991, the Environment Club was a well-established and popular activity and the enthusiasm for environmental issues led to a successful Environmental Awareness Day. 

TASIS teachers said at the time that they could not teach about environmental topics in their classes as there were few resources available. There was obviously a need for increased education about the environment outside of the classroom. After a sabbatical year, during which I researched environmental education projects around the world, I returned to TASIS eager to develop environmental awareness on campus. In 1994, we began the annual Environmental Awareness Week which was held every year from 1994 to 2004. By 2004, environmental issues had spread throughout the curriculum and teaching resources were more readily available so it was decided that a full week of activities was no longer necessary. 

Around that time, the Cancer and Malaria Educational Organisation (CAMEO) Club, which was concerned with first world/third world medical problems, was started by Masa Yo ’04, and my focus moved to humanitarian issues and the role that volunteering and responsible ecotourism can play in conservation and development in third world countries. I began to offer trips to Zambia and Botswana.

Sustainable TASIS, 2020 and Beyond

Master Architect David Mayernik discusses the eco credentials of his stunning building designs

From the first master plan of 1996, the TASIS campus has been developed as a sustainable community. At the broadest levels, that has to do with land use—preserving open green space by concentrating buildings into a village environment—and the related aspect of walkability. Developing the campus on sloping ground makes the experience of moving between the buildings not only exciting, but healthful. The campus is built to be durable, with ecological clay block walls as the standard form of out-of-the-ground construction, and timber roof framing; not only appealing for their traditional character, these systems of construction are long-lasting, sustainably produced, and non-toxic, not to mention attractive and sympathetic with their environment. Privileging natural light and air starts with building planning—relatively narrow footprints and multiple exposures facilitate daylighting and cross-circulation—and extends to operable windows and shutters. As part of a group of buildings crowning the campus village, the McDermid Center will weave together positive open space, a variety of exposures, and the enriching ambience of music in the piazza to complete TASIS’ sustainable community of buildings, a beacon of prudent planning and a model of how we can live together and with the environment.

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