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A woman walks as the sun rises behind the One World Trade Center and the New York skyline, while the smoke from Canada wildfires covers Manhattanas it is seen from the Liberty State Park on June 8, 2023, in New Jersey. (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images/TNS)
By Tribune News Service |
June 30, 2023 at 11:15 a.m.
June 30, 2023 at 11:25 a.m.
Alex Brown | (TNS)
When wildfires and smoke swept through Oregon in 2020, Lyra Johnsons family made plans to evacuate their home near Portland. Johnson, then 14, was told she might have to quickly learn to drive despite not having a license in order to get her grandmother to safety.
Thankfully, the danger passed before Johnson was forced to take the wheel, but she came face-to-face with the realities of climate change. Johnson, now 17 and a senior at Lake Oswego High School, was among the student leaders who urged Oregon lawmakers this year to require climate change education across all grade levels in Oregon schools.
Its really important to integrate that when youre young, so you have that knowledge and feel like you can make a difference, rather than having it thrown on you and feel like the worlds ending, she said.
Johnson serves as president of her schools Green Team, a student sustainability group, and helped establish a composting program this year to reduce waste.
It gave me a lot of hope, and its important to let students have that kind of hands-on experience, she said. When youre actually doing something and seeing progress, it can diminish a lot of that anxiety. Kids should be able to have that experience wherever they are.
The Oregon bill did not advance this session, but New Jersey last school year became the first state to incorporate climate change lessons into its education standards for kindergarten through 12th grade. Connecticut will be the second state to do so, starting next month.
Several other states are considering similar measures, while some have provided funding for climate learning opportunities. Most states have adopted standards that include climate change, but education experts say the subject is taught spottily and is usually limited to science classes. Some educators say theres growing recognition that climate change demands a more comprehensive approach.
Todays students are tomorrows consumers, workers and voters, said Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, an Oakland, California-based nonprofit. Increasingly, theyre going to be faced with the need to make decisions about issues related to climate change.
Efforts to require climate change learning have mostly been proposed in progressive-leaning states. Some observers have questioned whether efforts to set learning standards via legislation could clash with the typical multiyear process overseen by state boards of education.
Meanwhile, leaders in some conservative states say mainstream climate science is an attack on the fossil fuel industry, and some are pushing schools to teach both sides.
What I think is controversial is different views that exist out there about the extent of the climate change and the solutions to try to alter climate change, Ohio state Rep. Jerry Cirino, a Republican, told Energy News Network.
The Oregon bill Johnson and others supported would have directed school districts to teach climate change with a focus on local impacts and solutions. Backers said lawmakers were generally supportive but wanted to see a more specific plan with guidance and resources to help schools to meet the new directive. The bill did not get a vote in committee, but supporters hope a new draft will pass in the next legislative session.
Breck Foster, one of Johnsons teachers, serves as a board member for Oregon Green Schools, a nonprofit focused on climate education and sustainability. Shes found ways to incorporate climate learning into her social studies and Spanish classes.
A youth group participate in cleaning up trash at Venice Beach for Earth Day on April 22, 2023, in Los Angeles, California. Beach and river cleanups are being held across Southern California on the 53rd anniversary of Earth Day, started a year after the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill about a hundred miles north of Venice on the California coast. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)
Kids understand the gloom and doom, and theres a lot of fatalism in their comments, but they dont have a lot of the facts, said Foster, who also serves on the steering committee of Oregon Educators for Climate Education, a group that pushed for the bill. It was very enlightening to them to connect it to the idea of policies that are being implemented and goals that are being set.
New Jersey goes first
New Jersey first lady Tammy Murphy led the push for the states new standards, which were adopted in 2020 by the state Board of Education. She said kids already see the effects of climate change, citing the wildfires in Canada earlier this month that blanketed the Northeast in smoke.
Our children are seeing this as much as we are, she said in an interview with Stateline. To put our heads in the sand and pretend that the sky is not orange they understand that.
New Jersey requires schools to incorporate climate change lessons into almost all subject areas, not just science class, because students have different ways of learning and every student has a favorite class, Murphy said.
To help schools meet the new guidelines, the state has created lesson plans and professional development for teachers, and is offering millions of dollars in grants to support hands-on learning. The state established those resources in partnership with groups such as Sustainable Jersey, a nonprofit network that certifies municipalities and schools on sustainability standards.
Those tools, said Randall Solomon, Sustainable Jerseys executive director, were just as important as the standards themselves.
You cant just wave a magic wand and expect 150,000 teachers and 2,500 schools to coordinate to teach climate change, he said. To really enable them to do it well requires the development of resources and tools, training and a way to track progress.
Next month, Connecticut schools also will be required to teach climate change to all grade levels, following the enactment of a state law last legislative session.
Every single kid I talk to and work with, this is whats No. 1 on their minds, this is the existential crisis of their lifetimes, said state Rep. Christine Palm, a Democrat who sponsored the measure, which was tucked into a larger budget bill.
Los Angeles youth and activists hold signs as they take part in a worldwide Global Climate Strike to declare a climate justice emergency in Los Angeles, on September 23, 2022. (Photo by Frederic J. Brown / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)
Including solutions
Several other states, including California, Massachusetts and N