Students Stand up for the Planet

Shoshie Hemley, Reporter

Children in strollers, white haired grannies, and high schoolers holding signs stating “there is no Planet B” listened to former NFL player and City High alumnus Tim Dwight explain solar panels and their benefits in great detail. Lead by South East Junior High student Massimo Paciotto-Biggers, a few dozen students from City High and South East Junior High, joined by some supportive parents and adults, skipped school to strike for the climate at the Iowa City Community School District offices on Friday, April 19. Paciotto-Biggers read the demands he had for the ICCSD; a climate curriculum and solar panels in the ICCSD schools. Ever since 16 year old Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunburg gave a speech at the U.N, her “school strike for climate” movement has been spread around the world, including in Iowa City.

According to, 1.4 million students across the globe skipped school to climate strike, one of those students being Paciotto-Biggers. Since then, he has striked every Friday. For the first time, on April 19th, students from City joined the South East student in striking.

There had been an attempt for a strike at City on March 15, when Paciotto-Biggers started striking. However, it was unorganized and was unsuccessful due to the timing being the day school got out for spring break.

“We weren’t really sure what to do,” Penelope Wilkins ‘21, who had attempted to strike that day said. “We wanted to have an organized [strike], but that was just not happening. I actually heard about it the day of.”

According to Wilkins, the attempted strike was filled with confusion. Many students had already left for vacation, or were on school trips such as the New York City choir trip or the French trip. That Friday meant a lot of testing and absences for City students, resulting in a failed attempt at a strike due to lack of attendance. Despite Principal John Bacon sending an email to parents who might want to excuse their students prior to the strike, no strike at City ever occured. However, City High students were finally successful in striking on April 19.

A few weeks ago, a group of elderly women nicknamed “the grannies” started supporting the movement and attending the strikes, wearing green and holding signs. The 19th was their second strike.

“I think it’s really picking up, and a lot more people are coming now,” Paciotto-Biggers said.

Dwight is part of a solar company called Integrated Energy Services Incorporated. He spoke to the group about the benefits of solar energy.

“We’re going to beat the big guys,” Dwight said in reference to large energy corporations such as MidAmerican Energy. “We’re flipping [the system] and we’re changing it, and they don’t like it.”

For Francesca Brown ‘21, it was her first climate strike on Friday.

“I’m just glad that kids that are even younger than us are taking initiative,” Brown said. “I thought it was really inspiring that they were organizing it and taking this initiative, and that they’re being leaders for us, even though they’re younger than us.”

Brown thought that Dwight provided meaningful insights on the facts behind solar energy.

“It’s important you educate yourself,” Brown said. “I feel like its a common misconception that solar power is going to be something that’s really costly, but when you break it down, it becomes less costly the more you produce. And in the long run you will actually get a return on your money.”

School board member Phil Hemingway spoke as well. He mentioned how there had been conversation about solar panels at meetings.

“Not that I don’t trust [Hemingway], but he kind of was like ‘they’re reintroducing the idea [of solar panels],” Brown said. “It shouldn’t be that they’re reintroducing the idea at this point. It should be that they’re finding ways to actually enact this plan.”

Brown was frustrated with the lack of action from the school board and the district.

“I feel like [Hemingway] was not of any help. He basically told us what we already know,” Brown said. “Nobody [on the school board] is taking action right now. That they’re just having conversations about the idea of [solar energy], but they’re not implementing anything. And we already know that, and that’s why we’re striking.”

Brown believes not enough kids came to the strike, however she believes that attendance will improve as the strikes continue and the word gets out.

“I thought it was nice there was a speaker there. That way we were getting an educational opportunity and not just skipping school,” Brown said.

14 year old South East student, Mara Mass also striked for the first time on Friday.

“I am conscious about the climate and I’ve always been very pro solar panels and working against carbon emissions,” Mass said. “I’ve been looking for a change to come out here, and today was the day.”

Like many of the strike attendees, Mass was unsatisfied with the lack of students who showed up.

“I think there should have been more [people]. I was happy with how many people came compared to before, but I think we can do better,” Mass said.

Mass, along with Paciotto-Biggers and Dwight, spoke to the crowd, urging them that solar panels are necessary at the Iowa City Schools.

“We need to stand up for what we believe in and I think we all believe in having a home,” Mass said. “So if we are going to continue living on this Earth, like one of the signs said, ‘there’s no planet B’, so we’ve got to make this work.”

While most students left and went back to school after the speakers, Paciotto-Biggers amongst a few other students stayed the rest of the school day to continue to strike. Brown was disappointed she couldn’t stay with the others, but plans to in the future.

“The adults and the people who run this district need to realize what is important to us,” Brown said. “That this is something that matters to so many people, regardless of their age.” Paciotto-Biggers will continue to strike until the ICCSD meets his demands.

“I’m just going to keep going until they actually do something,” Paciotto-Biggers said.

There will be future strikes at the ICCSD offices every Friday. And for the attendees who were there on April 19, they hope to see more people show up.

“Anybody who’s available, come on out and work for it,” Mass said.