At my independent school in Oregon, we are launching an institutional response to climate change. At Catlin Gabel School, we are looking at divesting our endowment from fossil fuels, developing a climate literacy curriculum for students ages 4-18, and working on a model to measure and then reduce our Greenhouse Gas emissions.
I am writing to ask if a) your school is on a similar track and/or b) you’d like to share your experience with me, my students, and my school. I am especially curious about schools outside the USA.
Closer to home, my colleagues and I are inviting educators from other independent schools in the region to share resources–curricula, carbon counters–as we embark on this work. Our Head of School is exploring the possibility of a regional meeting of interested educators and administrators sometime next spring.
I understand that this isn’t a substitute for federal and international action on climate change, but I feel that there is real good in institutions lowering their use of resources. There is also an educational value, one perhaps greater than the direct environmental impact.
For the moment, however, few at my school appear moved to action. Many cars idle in the parking lot; there is little carpooling. Students notice this, of course. Teens can sense hypocrisy a mile away and I don’t think the adults at my school have done enough to stop their BS sensors from going off. Granted, our wonderful facilities staff records the school’s usage of oil, gas, and so on, and this info will serve us well when we begin looking for strategies for conservation. But we’ve just let the data accumulate for years. The grounds crew does an amazing job making the school look beautiful–every visitor remarks on it.The staff has done much to switch to more earth-friendly cleaning supplies and they’ve grabbed the low-hanging fruit for the rest of us. Yet without any school-wide action plan right now to lower our use of energy, it’s hard for us to convince our students climate change is an issue that will mark their lives. I fear we are making some of the older students cynical.
Recently, two colleagues and I attended the annual conference of the Northwest Association of Independent Schools at the Charles Wright School in Tacoma to share our process. We are really at the beginning of our journey as a school, despite the late date. I have taught about climate change for a decade, so have a few of my colleagues, but only now are we moving toward a coordinated effort. It feels late, but it also feels good. At the conference, our session was not well attended, but those who did come were energized and ready to collaborate on curriculum and planning.
MY web searches suggest that similar processes are happening all over the United States. But, as far as I can tell, the Department of Education doesn’t offer coordination on how schools can respond to, or teach, climate change. Perhaps I am missing something, but could it be the US federal government doesn’t have a plan for transforming schools to meet this enormous challenge? There is a program through which schools may apply for an award for their environmental work, but this is for outliers, not for everyone.
The Environmental Protection Agency has a nice website for younger students but its a decade out of date. Encouraging students to turn off lights at home (a good practice to be sure) isn’t going to do it. They get this. Students need to be tasked with more. Even grammar-school students can understand the fact that governments set policies around energy consumption. They need to gain experience working together on broader solutions. Otherwise we are teaching them to do something we admit in the next breath to be meaningless–we are thereby telling our students that it’s hopeless.
So, I am going to see if over the next few years, I can find schools that are helping students learn about climate change in a more meaningful and empowering way. I am going to work with my students on measuring and then working to reduce our school’s footprint in a meaningful way. And I will lend my voice to the call for divestment. Lucky for me, I have a Head of School who shares my concerns.
I would love to hear from educators about how their schools, schools districts, and governments are working on climate change education. Does anyone know of groups that are sharing knowledge about student-centered ways of making schools greener and about teaching climate change in an age-appropriate manner? Please feel free to comment below or send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.