• Radhika Iyengar

Day 2: Pushing for Climate Action Inside and Outside the Classroom

By Ashna Swaroop, Millburn Middle School, NJ

Dvita Bhattacharya, Millburn Middle School, NJ

Today’s session was all about Education for Sustainable Development, Curriculum Advocacy, Design and Implementation. Aalok Bhatt, a junior at Millburn High School in New Jersey led this session. Aalok is passionate about the environment, keeps up with current events, and hopes to make a difference to his community. The topic that was covered today was something that not many people think of on a day to day basis. Thankfully, we had the experts to help us understand the broad idea of Education for Sustainability.

Those experts, our panelists, consist of Ms. Jaimie Cloud, head of the Cloud Institute of Sustainable Education and Mr. Marc Rogoff, who was once a consultant to NASA and the National Wildlife Federation, and many other note-worthy organizations. Joining them was Mr. Michael Heinz, who works as the Science Coordinator for the NJ Department of Education. All of these remarkable people are working to include sustainability in the education system. Along the way, there have been problems and hardships that they had to overcome. And their journey isn’t over yet! Let’s see where they are now on the road to global education for sustainable development (ESD).

Ms. Cloud, who also works internationally in places such as Qatar, is working on developing benchmarks with school systems about green learning. Mr. Heinz has helped pave the path for New Jersey in becoming the first state to introduce sustainable education in school curriculum. Mr. Rogoff is working on establishing statewide climate change resilience. Finding an appropriate sustainable education curriculum is the challenge according to him. In addition, all three panelists made remarks about teachers not wanting to “add on” to the curriculum they already have. “Adding on” is not the right term for it. ESD needs to be integrated into the school’s existing curriculum. It should be included in other subjects, such as Math and Social Studies.

This problem of integrating ESD was also touched upon by Ms. Cloud. She referred to an example of how educators teach writing. Kids don’t learn how to make longer and longer sentences, she explained. They learn how to make their sentences with richer vocabulary and more meaning. That is how ESD should be assimilated. Making the existing curriculum richer, not longer. The teachers are already doing an astounding amount of work, and they don’t need more things to teach. ESD should benefit teachers, Mr. Rogoff said. After all, kids are the future. Teaching them about sustainability will help them understand their impact on the future.

Speaking about kids and the future, the panelists also had some great advice for youth who want to make an impact on the environment. Advice like that making a change can be hard to balance with other commitments, so it is important to not burn yourself out. Also, when you’re talking to someone with different views, avoid arguing, and instead find common ground that you can both agree on. This could be anything from the quality of food, to air pollution's effects on people. Look at the things you eat, wear and use. See how you can improve that. Start small, think of the impact on small things. If it affects money and time, you’re going to have to think more about it. Make small steps, little changes. All it takes is a small effort to start the journey to making something great happen. Remember, it’s not only adults who can make a difference. The youth can too!

In our next session, we met 3 inspiring teenagers who prove that kids can make just as much of a positive impact on the climate as adults. Let’s see how they are making an impact on the world. Our teen panelists, speaking about Community Organizing Through Storytelling, were Amina Castronovo, Faiza Azam, and Jade Lozada. Amina is working on advocating for climate justice education, on a statewide and citywide level. Faiza is currently behind Ourclimate’s social media accounts. Through that forum, she is making sure people know how to volunteer and get involved with Ourclimate. She was inspired by living in Bangladesh, where the economy was being drastically affected by climate change. Jade was inspired to join organizations like TREEage, because of a poem contest she entered. The theme for the contest was climate change, and Jade wrote a poem about it. Afterwards, she got hooked into learning more about the environment.

Did you know that climate change affects other things besides the environment? In fact, agriculture is impacted greatly by climate change. For example, in India, millions of farmers are protesting, and even locally in California, the wildfires were brought by global warming. To stand up against this and make your voice heard, you could start at your very own school. Get a group of your peers who are interested in the club you want to create, and a teacher that is willing to help. Each public school in NYC is required to have a sustainability coordinator. Have a conversation with them and come up with a virtual event or a meeting that can take place to start off your movement in school. From there, you can talk to the city government, who can put pressure on the state government. Always hold people accountable so that they get the job done, says Amina. Remember that as youth, we know more than we think we do.

All three panelists mention how women are the main representatives in meetings about the climate crisis. There are a lot of females of color and people from the LGBTQ community. There are rarely any men, though. While it is empowering that they are mostly made up by women, they still need everyone to join. The feeling of empowerment was gone when the VSCO girl trend started up . Faiza recalls that she was really sad that it happened, and she was glad to have it end, because caring for the Earth should not be shameful. Instead it should be a passion that shouldn’t seem like work because you love it so much, like the panelists we met today. We hope they inspire you to go out and make a difference for the world. As Amina said, the sceptists say that we can’t change anything. Maybe we can’t, but we have to try. Believing in yourself is what is going to get us through.

Personally, these two days have been very inspiring, and I can’t wait to learn more in the coming workshops.

Please see full agenda here. https://www.edforsd.org/post/ny-nj-climate-education-youth-summit

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