Youth on Board Climate Team

In the winter of 2015, youth from Boston Student Advisory Council (BSAC) and Youth on Board (YOB) were approached to give feedback on the new proposed state science standards. Due to the fact that the previous science standards did not do much to teach students about what happens when the oceans rise, or how an increase in fossil fuel emissions can affect the climate, or how and why seas warm and what affect that has on people, we felt that this was incredibly important to our education. Having recently taken up climate change as one of our campaigns and working with Boston Public Schools (BPS) on school-based initiatives like energy audits and power down Fridays, we emphasized the importance of climate change as an issue that directly affects us. We wanted science teachers to teach students things like renewable energy, sea level rise, and ocean acidification.

During the summer of 2014, BSAC was invited to outline youth priorities for the city’s Climate Action Plan (CAP), and one of our main priorities was the education of BPS students on climate change and the implementation of real solutions.  Additionally, we desired a mandate that the climate change curriculum be engaging, interactive, and relevant to young people’s lives and their communities. With the curriculum a priority for Boston’s CAP and the standards put in place shortly afterwards, it was the perfect time to create a standards-based curriculum on the science of climate change.

Although there are new standards in place, the goal of the climate change curriculum is to help cement not only knowledge of what’s happening to our planet but the fact that we also have to teach the educators and students how this affects them. BPS is comprised predominantly of people of color and it is essential to inform the community about the social, economic, and racial implications of climate change. As such, in the summer of 2016, we partnered with the BPS Science Department and the Boston Teachers Union to create this curriculum. Our job? Provide teachers and curriculum developers feedback on the environmental and climate issues, like ocean science and coastal resiliency that we wanted to see in our schools.

Since the curriculum was developed, the YOB Climate Team has been actively providing feedback in lessons plans regarding climate change, and seeking to implement the curriculum in science classes in grades K-12. We went through each individual lesson as a team, to ensure the sequencing and the units engage students as much as possible. Additionally we provided areas for further extensions of lessons and topics that could be worth exploring. Also, we incorporated into each lesson in the curriculum both local and global environmental justice connections, and meaningful, real world implications of the topics students will learn in their science classes. Boston Globe Article with information about the work.

The implementation of new, climate-related state science standards provides a content guide and framework for teachers like those we worked with who seek to create lessons on climate science. Describe cycling of carbon through the ocean, atmosphere, soil, and biosphere and how increases in carbon dioxide concentrations due to human activity have resulted in atmospheric and climate changes. This is one of the new climate-related MA science standards, and was used to develop lessons such as a 11th and 12th grade lesson on sea level rise and carbon footprints. The lesson asks--how will sea level rise affect coastal communities into this century and beyond? How does your personal carbon footprint contribute to climate change? How does the average American compare to other global citizens? Things like this are talked about in the high school level but built upon lessons that would be taught in the elementary and middle school levels. Lessons like this are essential--especially in places like Boston, which is a coastal area under the threat of rising sea levels. How does it look that students don’t know what CO2 is? Or how if you ask students where they learned about climate change the responses are usually one or the other…--the first being they learned about it outside of school from an organization, event, teach-in, etc. or the second being that they have never learned about it at all?

This spring, we have been organizing around the 2017’s People’s Climate Movement (PCM) in Boston, seeking to spread the word about climate and racial justice and bring public attention to the movement. We took our curriculum to the Boston PCM, leading a teach-in where we provided an overview of our lessons, K-12, to over 60 people who attended our workshop.  The curriculum is garnering a large amount of interest from teachers both in and outside of the school district. As the curriculum continues to grow, we hope to continue providing student input and feedback to it, while spreading awareness and recruiting teachers to help pilot it. Our hope is eventually this curriculum is implemented by all science teachers in BPS and elsewhere, with the goal that every student has access to meaningful and engaging climate education.

By Michael Jones, Rossy Santana, and Adnan Malek of the Youth on Board Climate Team.