Diana Michaelson. Courtesy photo.

During a July meeting of the Long Beach Unified Board of Education, then-President Juan Benitez told a group of climate activists in the back of the room that they “exemplify the best of what we hope our students achieve.”

The leader of that group was Long Beach Poly High School senior Diana Michaelson, who continues to add to her personal list of achievements as the founder of the Long Beach Green Schools Campaign.

Michaelson’s activism has already made an impact locally—with the LBUSD unanimously approving her Green Schools board proposal back in August—and now her work is beginning to earn international acclaim. Michaelson, 16, was recently selected to receive a 2022 International Young Eco-Hero Award, presented by Action For Nature.

“When I saw that I received the award it was really exciting,” said Michaelson. “I had been in contact with Act For Nature for a couple weeks and they interviewed me numerous times. So I was really happy to have received this award from this really exciting group.”

Long Beach Green Schools Campaign founder Diana Michaelson delivers public comment during a school board meeting. Michaelson and other members of the Green Schools Campaign have been a consistent presence at school board meetings for the past two years. Photo by JJ Fiddler.

Each year, the awards are given to a select group of young environmental activists from around the globe, ranging from ages 8 to 16. Winners are selected by a panel of independent judges, including experts in environmental science, biology and education.

Michaelson becomes the first-ever recipient of the Shimon Schwarzschild Award, named after the founder of Action For Nature, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that “encourages young people to nurture a love and respect for Earth’s natural resources and to take personal action to protect the environment.”

The Schwarzschild Award was created to honor a young environmentalist who is a visionary thinker. Michaelson’s vision was to create green campuses in Long Beach which operate on clean, renewable energy—a process that’s now underway thanks to her leadership in founding the Long Beach Green Schools Campaign.

“Young people like Diana have shown that the next generation of leaders is here, and they are taking action across the globe now to address the climate crisis and solve local, national, and global environmental challenges,” Beryl Kay, President of Action For Nature, said in a news release. “The projects that young people like Diana have created are having real and important impacts on their communities, helping to solve global climate challenges, and are inspiring others—including adults—to do what they can to help.”

Michaelson said it’s a relief that the LBUSD board proposal has finally passed so that she can spend more time working on her college applications. She’s also had time to reflect on what she and her classmates were able to accomplish after two years of persistence, while also acknowledging that there’s still work to be done.

“There’s definitely been a relief where I feel like I’ve been able to just step back a little bit, but also you understand that there is still this accountability component,” said the ever-vigilant Michaelson. “But I think overall, just letting it sink in, knowing that we passed the first student-led policy at LBUSD is huge.”

Michaelson says the success of the Green Schools Campaign has inspired other students in the district who’ve reached out to her for guidance on getting their own policies passed.

As for Michaelson’s next steps, she will continue working with the school district as part of a special community task force to help lay out a vision for the district’s green future. Furthermore, she was recently chosen as a youth council member with the city of Long Beach, where she’ll get to work with the city’s Office of Youth Development and help guide policy that relates to young people in the community.

“That’s something that I’ve been really passionate about as well; bringing more youth voice into policymaking, which I’m really excited to do with the city,” Michaelson said. “I think that what we were able to accomplish at the school board is just living proof that it is possible.”

A complete list of this year’s Eco-Award winners is available on the Action For Nature website.

After 2 years of advocacy, a student-led green energy plan just became LBUSD policy