Topa students' play, 'Planet B,' gets top billing in Ojai

web 6 7 climate photo
Photo by Michelle Ellison
Topa Topa School sixth-graders hold up signs after school for a climate strike May 24 on Ojai Avenue, inspired by teenage Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.


Marianne Ratcliff, Ojai Valley News editor
Topa Topa School sixth-graders are taking their concern for the planet to the street, to their school and to the school board, performing an excerpt from their class play, “Planet B,” to a packed audience Thursday evening.
It has been a busy couple of weeks for the students whose play about climate change — written by sixth-graders Serena Aparicio and Coree Kotula — makes the point that there is no Planet B. Serena directs the play, which has also been filmed.
Giving students acting tips has been Nordhoff valedictorian Jem Ruf, who has played the leads in two school plays this year.
The Topa students performed the play for their whole school on June 6, and will perform for a Nordhoff drama class June 7, and at Patagonia later this month. They will also be participating in Ojai’s Fourth of July Parade. “It was powerful,” said sixth-grade Topa teacher Chris Ando about the performance for the school, adding that it was special for the students that the mayor and Councilman Bill Weirick attended. “I am so hopeful for the future when I see the young kids — how fearless they are,” Ando said.
“Honk if you care about the Earth!” “Climate change needs to change!” “Raise your voice, not the sea level!” “Rise up for climate justice!” “Wake up humans: We’re endangered, too!” Those slogans in colorful lettering adorned signs held by the Topa students and others along Ojai Avenue by Libbey Park during the May 24 climate strike, inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. Horns blared and thumbs jutted out of car windows as students waved their signs at passing drivers from 1 to 2 p.m. after school.
Ojai Mayor Johnny Johnston and Councilwoman Suza Francina were there and congratulated the students. “It’s their world to inherit,” Johnston said. “We’ve got to help them keep it livable.”
May 24 was Francina’s birthday and she said she wanted to show support for the students. “Kids are being made aware that 1 million species of plants and animals are headed toward annihilation and they are surrounded by adults who are in denial,” she said. “For them to be learning to take this kind of action is one of the most important things they can learn in school.”
“It’s totally amazing to see the effects of kids on passersby,” said Kris Young, D.C., who is following Thunberg’s lead by holding “Fridays for Future” rallies each week in Ojai “till we get this taken care of.” He is also involved in the Ventura County General Plan that is a blueprint for the county through 2040, especially as it pertains to climate change.
“People care about our planet,” said Mariana Calderon, a sixth-grader in Ando’s class who made stickers for participants that read, in part: “Change the world before it’s too late.”
“I am supporting climate-change action,” said 12-year-old Jaylen Garrett.
“What do we want?” Mr. Ando called out and the children responded: “Climate justice now!”
Michelle Ellison of Ojai delighted in the children’s energy at the climate strike. “Today was the largest, by far,” she said of the turnout.
“When a child delivers a message, adults will listen to them,” Ando said.
“As they awaken each other, they will awaken us,” Young said of the children’s involvement. He said he now regularly talks with his children and grandchildren about the challenges facing the planet.
Young, 67, said he is intent on teaching them what he said he didn’t realize until he was 50. Before then, he said: “I believed the responsibility of a good citizen was to vote. I thought I was being a good citizen. I think very differently now. No society can survive on that little citizen involvement or participation.”
Young recalled the impact of Robert Dodge, a Ventura physician, who founded Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions ( in 2002, and caused him to understand that finding peace for oneself is “not possible without creating peace in the world. And if that really does matter, I better get to work for the rest of my life.”