Walk to the Hart: A Step Towards Sustainability

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On Thursday, April 21, I stood amongst more than half of Suffield High School as they gathered in the middle school parking lot for the first day of the three-day climate celebration “Walk to the Hart.” After spending years helping to plan this event as one of the student leaders for the Suffield Sustainability Council (SSC), finally looking at all of the chattering students on their way to the event was a surreal feeling.

Photo by Justin Kaput
Students listen to Dr. John Francis speak about his 17 years of silence, 22 years of walking and his hope for the future.

At around 9:30 a.m., we left the parking lot. In an act of solidarity for a more sustainable future, more than 400 teachers, staff and students began their walk to the Suffield Town Green, buoyed by an enthusiastic group of waving McAlister Intermediate students and staff bearing handmade signs and cheering on the walkers. The feeling of excitement and energy was palpable as we turned onto Mountain Road, which was closed down allowing us to pass straight through the heart of Suffield.

Leading the walk, along with the Suffield Sustainability Council leadership team, were Dan Kinzer, crew member of the Hōkūle’a, the transoceanic traditional Polynesian voyaging vessel and banjo playing National Geographic Explorer Dr. John Francis. Getting to walk with John Francis was a particularly special experience, as Dr. Francis is known in part for the 22 years (17 in silence) he spent walking around the Americas while he abstained from the use of motorized transport. Suffield High student and member of the SSC leadership team Grace Karam talked about this experience, saying “It was incredible to walk alongside John Francis because through his actions he has inspired us to follow in his footsteps.”

Upon reaching the green, SSC advisor Justin Kaput, Dan Kinzer and Dr. Francis started the event off by speaking to the whole student group about environmental protection and their own experiences with the transformative power of nature. From Dan Kinzer, we learned to throw a shaka (a Hawaiian hand gesture meaning ‘right on’) and the true meaning of Aloha. He also spoke powerfully about how we are all on the same canoe, sharing the voyage of saving mother earth, and we must rely on one another to complete the journey. From Dr Francis’s banjo and incredible life story to the importance of biodiversity, each speaker had an important lesson.

Following these speakers, students spent the rest of the event walking around to visit all of the booths and activities, which included booths from organizations such as the Connecticut Sierra Club and the University of Connecticut, powerful exhibits from student groups, electric cars, and even a 28-foot energy demonstration trailer from Energize CT, before returning to the high school.

I think that the event was well received by students. Mary Parnin described it as “an eye-opening experience that really brought together our school community to raise awareness for one of the most pressing issues [in our world today].” It was especially significant for SSC members, including leadership team member Jack Burke, for whom the event was a culmination of three years of hard work. With advisor Mr. Kaput, students such as Burke dedicated countless hours to planning the three-day Walk to the Hart event, learning countless new skills and dealing with a myriad of setbacks, including the COVID-19 pandemic, which canceled the original event in 2020. Finally seeing the event in action was an extraordinary experience. When asked about it, Burke said, “We brought a lot of young people together and inspired them to make a change in their lives, and that’s what I’m most proud of.”

Photo by Lester Smith
Doris Johnson and John Francis are pictured at the booth she set up for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, where she is an outreach and education coordinator. He was one of the rally’s speakers, telling how much he had learned from his treks across the country, both ways, and his north-to-south walk down the entire length of South America.

At its core, that was the purpose of Walk to the Hart, to inspire change and growth within the students of Suffield High School and to help them realize they have a role to play in creating a world that allows for both humanity and for the rest of nature to thrive.

Burke was not the only one who felt this way. SHS teacher Mark Beigel said, “The students of SHS put together an impressive event with a powerful message – young people of our world are not the future, they are the now.”

The Suffield Sustainability Council would like to thank the staff of Suffield High School for their enthusiasm, cooperation and participation in the “Walk to the Hart” event. They would also like to thank the town for their vital presence in and assistance with this event. Without both of these groups, Walk to the Hart would not have been possible.

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