Youth Spotlight: Sofia Pharis

“The (Austin Youth Climate Equity Council) allowed me to dwell on social issues and talk freely with my peers and mentors. This is something that I feel I could never do in school.”

Sofia Pharis

Meet Sofia Pharis, an Austin High School senior who served on last year’s Austin Youth Climate Equity Council (AYCEC). Read on for more on how early access to green spaces nurtured Sofia’s passion for addressing environmental issues today. Plus: why Sofia believes that open, honest conversation at home is key to fostering young people’s empowerment as climate leaders.

Applications for the 2023-24 cohort are open through Monday, Sept. 11th. Learn more about the AYCEC and share this opportunity with young leaders you know: https://bit.ly/aycec-flyer

How did you first get excited about the natural world?

My interest in the environment first started in elementary school. Barton Hills Elementary is located right next to the Greenbelt here in Austin so during class time we would walk in the greenbelt and learn about invasive plants and write poetry to connect us with nature. Having a green space that I felt so connected to from such a young age meant that when I started learning about environmental issues in passing I felt very passionate towards working to solve them! This passion has stuck with me ever since.

What is one way that parents and adult allies can support youth around climate action?

The biggest thing would be to welcome discussion and curiosity. So much of what I have learned about the environment has not been at school but through discussion at home.

Who along the way has supported your passion for green leadership?

My parents are my #1 supporters. They are landscape architects and are very passionate about land restoration. When I want to talk about these topics, we always have engaging conversations. My two main green mentors were my teachers from middle school, Mrs. Chambers and Mr. Fyfe. They encouraged me to have a strong voice and live my passion! I am grateful for them every day. In middle school I wanted to spread awareness about composting so Mrs. Chambers and Mr. Fyfe helped me set up a station in the cafeteria with recycling, trash, and composting bins. I stood behind the bins and helped kids sort their waste every day during lunch.

Austin Youth Climate Equity Council members stand inside City Hall holding certificates.
Sofia and other AYCEC members pose at City Hall. Sofia is fourth from the right.

What have been some other formative educational experiences?

My first experience with green learning was in 7th grade. I went to Clint Small Middle School, and I was part of the green tech program. In 7th and 8th grade I spent class time every day working in Small’s garden and learning about environmental activism and climate change. My experience in middle school is what has shaped my passions to this day.

Now, I am a senior at Austin High School who is looking to apply to the University of Texas with a major in sustainability. I took AP Environmental Science in my junior year and this class brought me back to a learning environment that I hadn’t experienced since middle school. Basically, APES made me want to learn again and reminded me of what I am passionate about.

What was your experience on The Austin Youth Climate Equity Council like?

The Austin Youth Climate Equity Council was an important step in my career as a student. The AYCEC allowed me to dwell on social issues and talk freely with my peers and mentors. This is something that I feel I could never do in school.

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