Sydney Kroonen at the Coronado Public Library in March. Staff photo by Julieta Soto.

Vogue’s 2023 January digital cover star story and video featured seven-time Grammy winner Billie Eilish and young environmental activists that almost included Coronado’s Sydney Kroonen.

Kroonen last November was invited to participate as one of the youngest youth climate activists and organizers in a climate justice mini-summit alongside Eilish.

Kroonen, however, tested positive for COVID and left before the filming. But she said she was grateful for the platform that the invitation and short participation provided for her advocacy efforts.

“I’m not in the video,” she said. “But it was great to make all the connections to the activists,” 

The video, however, does include classmate and Green Team club co-president Ryan Berberet.

“There are so many people that are doing this kind of work that aren’t being recognized,” Kroonen said. “We want to make it a priority to be amplifying those voices.” 

Green work recognition

Kroonen is a 17-year-old high school junior and environmental activist who founded Green Team club at Francis Parker School in fall 2021, at the start of her sophomore year. 

Initial club efforts like learning about littering, sustainable life choices, and making vegan treats at meetings changed at the end of her sophomore year when Berberet approached Kroonen about an opportunity.

With Berberet, Kroonen expanded the club’s efforts to the national scale enrolling the club to Action for the Climate Emergency (ACE), a program for environmental clubs with educational resources and mentoring.

The team held a climate strike at Francis Parker last September in solidarity with Fridays for Future, or FFF, “a youth-led and -organized global climate strike movement” which began in August 2018, following a school strike for climate by 15-year-old Greta Thunberg.

Thunberg became virally known at 15-years-old after skipping school every day for three weeks to protest outside the Swedish parliament against climate change in 2018 with a sign that read,  “School Strike for Climate.”

Fridays for Future

From this surged Fridays for Future, an international movement strike taking place every Friday inviting student participation.

Kroone said the group invited some speakers from SanDiego350, an organization that works in environmental justice, as well as student speakers.

“It was really powerful,”she said.

Kroonen said she and Berberet meet with ACE mentor Ash Lauth every two weeks to discuss and adapt club ideas.

“We’re the most active club in Southern California.”

-Coronado’s Sydney Kroonen.

“ACE volunteered our names to Vogue,” she said. “We’re the most active club in Southern California.”

Balancing activism and school

Kroonen’s climate activism work is divided into participation with Youth v Oil, a chapter of SanDiego 350 including teens across the county and Parker’s Green Team club.

SanDiego350 serves all of San Diego County so Coronado is included. But, the group is not necessarily specific to Coronado.

Last winter, Kroonen joined the ongoing Youth4Climate 2020 campaign “Youth v. Oil,” which is dedicated to passing resolutions to phase out all fossil fuel production throughout San Diego County and California by 2025.

She said the campaign also passed a resolution phasing out oil in San Diego Unified School District.

“We are working on collaborating with members from school districts all within Southern California to phase out oil,” she said.

On March 3, Kroonen participated in the oil spill demonstration, organized by SanDiego350 at Waterfront Park in downtown San Diego.

And Kroonen is currently head of the promotion team for an upcoming SanDiego350 summer summit.

Days start at 4 a.m.

Apart from her advocacy, Kroonen is an avid water polo player. 

“This has definitely been the most hectic year yet of high school,” she said.

During the season, Kroonen begins her days at 4 a.m. and begins tackling homework, school, club meetings and after school evening water polo practices, which run until about 5 p.m., followed by calls and meetings.

“When the meetings are done, I would take a shower, go downstairs, hang out with my family, eat dinner, and then do a little homework and then go to bed and start it all over again,” she said.

Coronado roots

Kroonen has lived on the island since she was 3,  and attended Coronado Middle School.

“There’s nothing light about this issue.”

-Sydney Kroonen

“My passion for environmentalism started in seventh grade when Greta Thunberg started getting really famous because I had just gotten Instagram at the time,” she said. “I was very compelled by what she was speaking about and just the seriousness that she carries. There’s nothing light about her tone, which is very fitting because there’s nothing light about this issue.”

Sydney Kroonen at the Coronado Public Library in March. Staff photo by Julieta Soto.

She said during her time in middle school, she was upset with the district’s response to the Black Lives Matter movement and she said she encountered sentiments of homophobia and racism among her peers. 

For those reasons, Kroonen chose Francis Parker for the flexibility to do theater and water polo as well as learn “the intersections of oppression that have so heavily influenced our society,” she said.

Member of InclusioNado

In summer 2020, Kroonen joined InclusioNado, a Coronado group of students, teachers and community members who partner with the school district to promote diversity and inclusion.

That occurred during No Place for Hate education and diversity efforts alongside other Coronado High School students and parents following the death of George Floyd.

Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was murdered in police custody by Minneapolis police officers on May 25, 2020. The video footage of his murder was followed by weeks-long nation-wide protests against police brutality and systemic racism.

“The organization lost a lot of momentum, and I felt bad that I was kind of pulling out since I was leaving the school district,” she said

Kroonen said even though she identifies as mixed race and Asian American, she acknowledges the privilege she holds due to her family’s socioeconomic status.

She considers Youth v. Oil a great way to bridge a connection and for youth to unite Coronado to greater issues across the bridge 

“There’s so much that we can do with our privilege if we’re cognizant of it, and if we find a way to use it in a way that’s beneficial and not rude or not overstepping,” she said. “The first step to that is obviously being aware that you even have it.”

Learning from other activists

After the Vogue piece, she said more people at her school have begun paying attention and thinking about the climate crisis, at times coming up to her or attending Green Team events.

“There’s so many ways to make environmentalism a priority in your life.”

-Sydney Kroonen

“There’s so many ways to make environmentalism a priority in your life,” she said. “That was a lesson that I was very excited to learn from these older activists, because even though I’m very passionate about environmentalism, I don’t necessarily want to be a politician.”

Kroonen is considering sustainable consulting to help groups in the arts industry transition their practices to being environmentally friendly.

“It’s inspiring and refreshing to see that I don’t have to pick between environmentalism and pursuing a career that I’m very truly passionate about,” she said. “I can do both.”

Kroonen encourages other aspiring student activists hoping to bring change and impact to know that no action is too small. 

“It’s important that we have people taking action at every level. So even if you feel like you’re not doing a lot, what you’re doing is so necessary and so important,” she said. “There’s room for improvement and room to bring that kind of advocacy into every field of work.”

Sydney Kroonen at the Coronado Public Library in March. Staff photo by Julieta Soto.

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Julieta is a reporter for The Coronado News, covering education, small business and investigating the Tijuana/Coronado sewage issue. She graduated from UC Berkeley where she studied English, Spanish, and Journalism. Apart from reporting, Julieta enjoys reading, traveling, and spending quality time with family and friends.

The Coronado News is a 24-hour news website and direct-mail free newspaper to all residents and businesses of Coronado as we cover city government, schools, businesses, entertainment and the Navy.