Harbor City International School Students at the Minnesota Zoo's Mussel Cabin.

Harbor City International School is a small public charter school located in downtown Duluth. Part of the school’s mission is to graduate global citizens who eagerly pursue knowledge and enrich their communities. During the 2022-2023 school year, Harbor City students took on many projects, both for classes and as extracurricular activities, that were focused on helping the environment. This article aims to describe the important work and accomplishments of students in A.P Environmental Science, Action Club Team, and the Taking Action on Conservation Issues winter symposium.  


Advanced Placement Environmental Science(APES) is a collegiate-level science elective offered at Harbor City. With a small class of only six students this year, APES participated in a number of environmental initiatives. This small class size allowed for many opportunities to learn about subjects in depth with hands-on projects.      

One of the most interesting of these projects was the “#ShowUsYourMussels” challenge, sponsored by the Minnesota Zoo. The project challenged us to creatively use social media to increase awareness about the importance of native mussels for cleaning our freshwater in Minnesota, competing against other schools to reach the highest number of people. For our efforts in the project APES students were awarded free tickets and transportation to the MN Zoo, and got to experience a private lesson and tour of their “Mussel Cabin.”

Another exciting APES opportunity was the Climate Action Simulation put on by several staff and students from the University of Minnesota. Harbor City was one of the schools participating in the pilot program of this simulation.

The simulation employs the En-ROADS technology developed by Climate Interactive, asking students to collaborate in a mock United Nations-style, with the goal of bringing down the projected global temperature below a 2.0° C increase by the year 2050. The workshop spans several days, at the end of which it asks students to reflect on what they’ve learned by designing a potential project to reduce carbon emissions and greenhouse gasses in their community.  

The student project ideas ranged from more efficient transportation, including public transportation, to reducing plastic bag usage by using mesh reusable produce bags to composting food waste at home or eating more locally grown foods. Students reflected on the importance of this simulation and project planning exercise, as they were able to see ways in which changes can make a quantifiable impact.

Students also appreciated seeing both the impact of large-scale changes by giant interest groups as well as the impact of individual options for change. The APES students were joined by Harbor City’s Honors Biology class, working together to ultimately achieve the set goal.

In addition, all Biology students had a chance to take part in the Climate Action Simulation and to brainstorm carbon emission reduction projects. [1]    Action Club Team Projects   Harbor City International School hosts many active clubs, but none are so active as our very own Action Club Team, or ACT for short. This student-driven club is led by the cast of 8-12 students who attend our weekly meetings and focuses on taking action for our environment, which we do primarily through beach sweeps, recycling education, and raising awareness in our community. This year, however, ACT widened the scope, taking on a project with Youth Eco Solutions, where all our work culminated in educating both lower and upper elementary students at Many Rivers Montessori School.  

For our Youth Eco Solutions (YES!) project, we decided we wanted to focus on the water all around us: namely, Lake Superior, and all the lakes, rivers, streams, and other bodies of water that feed into it. To this end, we started with some of the projects we do every year: a few beach sweeps, where we walk to Park Point after school and took data about trash, plastics, and other waste found there, a penny war, where we raise money for a good cause, this year resulting in more than $1,000 for Regrow Borneo, and our recycling presentation and pre-and post survey, and which is how we educate our school on common items that can be recycled in our school, and what can be put in our food waste bucket and composted.  

The main components of our project for YES! were the lessons we did with the students of Many Rivers Montessori about water ecology, watershed composition, and benthic macroinvertebrates this past May. Despite this being our largest focus, we also achieved incredible things like a downtown trash sweep, where every College Pursuit or homeroom took on cleaning up a different block of downtown Duluth. Overall, ACT has been incredibly active in our community this year with our focus on making positive environmental change! After filling out a team report that described the team’s accomplishments through the year and conducting a presentation for YES! judges, the team was one of three award winners in the state-wide competition! Students were presented with the water stewardship award at Target Field prior to the Twins vs. Cubs game on Sunday May 14th.  

Taking Action on Conservation Issues Symposium   Each winter Harbor City International School hosts a week-long symposium where students attend a class of their choice. One of these classes offered at the start of 2023 was Taking Action on Conservation Issues. During this symposium, students learned about topics related to conservation, including the effects of lead products on wildlife, palm oil, American Kestrels, and the importance of recycling electronics. We toured the Great Lakes Aquarium, Lake Superior Zoo, and the Whole Foods Co-op. We also had the opportunity to create “tiny bird art” through an event run by Friends of the Sax-Zim Bog (FOSZB).

The money raised through the art auction went toward FOSZB’S Mission of Preserving & Protecting the Greater Sax-Zim Bog. During our symposium, we learned the negative effects dropped lead tackle has on loons and other wildlife. Additionally, we learned the consequences of mining the ore, coltan, (used primarily in electronics) in the Congo and how it harms the habitat of the endangered gorilla and chimpanzee population. A

t the end of the symposium, we decided to organize an electronics recycling drive through our partnership with the program ECO-CELL, and a lead tackle drive in partnership with the Get The Lead Out program in Minnesota. We reached out to our school’s community, encouraging them to bring in any old electronics or lead tackle they had in exchange for stickers and a ticket to enter a prize drawing. We informed our community that by recycling old electronics, we can save the endangered gorillas and chimpanzees by reducing the demand for coltan and providing funds for organizations that are actively engaged in protecting these species.

Furthermore, by collecting lead tackle and encouraging alternatives for lead fishing products, we are reducing the possibility of these items ending up in our rivers, ponds, and other bodies of water where they harm the local wildlife. Both of our drives were a success, and we collected many electronics and lead fishing products brought in by various students.  

This article was written by Agnes Barthel, Amaia Mayberry and Sydney Schaefer, three Harbor City International School students from the Class of 2024.