Last year, New Jersey became the first state in the nation to require all its public schools to adopt climate change education into its curriculum.
Chatham High School in the township of Chatham, New Jersey, is one of the more than 2,000 public schools in the state implementing this new curriculum in the fall. Science supervisor Kristen Crawford says the new curriculum will be incorporated across every subject.
For teachers taking on the topic of climate change for the first time, Crawford says educators need to take a balanced approach.
“We don't want to overwhelm students. We want to empower students,” she says. “So we want to say, ‘Yes, this is a problem. But guess what? This is how we can solve it.’ ”
Senior Naomi Boyd is one of Crawford’s Advanced Placement environmental science students. She’s a member of the school’s Green Team and attended town meetings in 2020 to discuss the ban of plastics at local grocery stores.
Having grown up in the woods in Chatham, Boyd says she’s concerned about how climate change is impacting the wildlife on this “green and beautiful” Earth. She thinks Congress needs to crack down on the country’s reliance on fossil fuels for energy.
Boyd says the notion that her generation will find the solution to this crisis is a little daunting, but she’s excited to learn about how climate change impacts bird migration patterns as a biology student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Commonwealth Honors College next year.
“I think it's kind of a welcome challenge because I think so many people in [my] generation are really interested in this issue and they're really willing to work to solve it,” Boyd says. “And I think we will definitely come up with a solution very soon at the pace we're going.”
Crawford feels proud that students like Boyd understand climate science. Learning the basics of climate science can help students make informed decisions to improve their quality of life and community — or even one day solve the problem, she says.
On how climate change education will be implemented across subjects
Kristen Crawford: “At Chatham High School and in Chatham Schools, we are implementing climate change sort of across the K-12 curriculum. So at the high school level, we talk about climate change not only in the sciences, but we are also discussing it in classes like our English classes, where we might be reading a book that has to do with climate change. Another great example is in one of our world language classes, in our German class, students have done research about how other countries are dealing with climate change and some of the solutions that they are using to mitigate the impacts of climate change. We also have architectural classes where students are using green practices to be able to design different buildings so that it's kind of infused in all these different areas.”
On the most challenging parts of building a climate change curriculum and teaching the subject
Crawford: ”I think one of the things is, first of all, we know that our science teachers have a great background on climate change, but really discussing sort of what climate change is. I always say that when you talk about climate and climate change, a kindergartner is not going to understand what that is, but they can understand how to dress the bear for the weather. So one of the things that we might do at a kindergarten level is just talk about what is climate and how is climate related to weather? And then building on on top of that, how climate is kind of changing and what happens when climate changes. Why should I be really concerned about climate changing throughout my lifetime? We want students to know that as a young generation, first give them knowledge about what it means and what climate change means, and then empower them to be able to design the solutions that they can in order to change climate change or slow it down and to maybe even change some of their family practices.”
On the challenges Chatham Schools face
Crawford: “I think some of the challenges that we have right now are students, you know, their hybrid model or being in school for part of the day. But we're incorporating Hands-On things with, you know, considering social distancing and disinfecting. So the teachers are really going above and beyond to give students those hands-on experiences and those skills only because we know that if we are designing a green building or if we are designing something that's a model of alternative energy, it takes Hands-On. I think computers are great and they have a place, but we also want them to be able to experience maybe sometimes this doesn't work out, how am I going to problem solve this and make it work? But I think that the teachers are resilient and they really find great ways to be able to get the ideas across to students.”
This segment aired on May 7, 2021.