Saturday, November 23, 2019

How Can We Best Equip Our Students to Become Change Agents?

Environmental educators face increasing pressure to provide students with the education, tools and opportunities to overcome the looming threat of climate change. While many outsiders may view this as a simple task, they fail to recognize the complexity of educating students about such a pivotal point in time that transcends ecological systems and shows the interconnectedness of the natural world, human systems and global culture.  Given limited resources and the vastness of this moment, what tangible impact can educators really make?

While I am sure this may resonate with the environmental education community, it is imperative to recognize that, despite the complexity of climate change, each one of us already has the toolbox to address this problem.  Through project-based learning, place-based learning and design thinking, we can empower students to analyze environmental issues around them and create solutions.  Additionally, the UN Sustainability Goals provide us with an outline to shape our curriculum so that students truly get the opportunities to design solutions that create change on a global level.

In North Carolina, one group of educators at The Exploris School in Raleigh have decided to embark on this journey.  Using the Feel-Imagine-Do-Share model and the UN Sustainability Goals, 88 students developed five projects to address local issues in Raleigh, NC that mirror issues across the globe. In each of these projects, students get the opportunity to collaborate and create their own innovative solutions to transform our world.  Here are some examples!

Raleigh, NC students create denim storm drain filters.
Raleigh, NC students create denim storm drain filters.

Sustainability Goal #14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

The UN set a target to prevent and significantly reduce the amount of land-based pollution in our waterways by 2025.  However, because of the influx of new housing and construction in Raleigh, students have become concerned about meeting this target.  After meeting with the stormwater management crew, students used denim jeans to create storm drain filters and marked storm drains across the city!

Students from the Exploris School in Raleigh deliver food to disadvantaged families.
Students from the Exploris School in Raleigh deliver food to disadvantaged families.

Sustainability Goal #2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture

In Wake County, 14% of the population is food insecure, which is on par with the rate of global food insecurity.  To combat this issue in the local community, students at The Exploris School partnered with local organizations to learn how to increase access to food.  From these partnerships, they were able to collect 1,000 pounds of food and create food action boards that they placed in downtown Raleigh!

Students from The Exploris School in Raleigh deliver kale to immigrant and refugee families.
Students from The Exploris School in Raleigh deliver kale to immigrant and refugee families.

Sustainability Goal #10: Reduced Inequality

In Wake County, immigrants and refugees comprise over 13% of the population. As many of these individuals are new to the United States and lack the means to provide for their families, there is a need to ensure the safety and wellbeing of these communities.  In response to this need, the students developed a plan to sustainably harvest and deliver food to these families.  Through this project, they harvested 125 pounds of kale for 40 families across the county!

As we reflect on the best way to inspire students to be change agents, environmental educators must remember the power of our toolbox.  Allowing students to create their own connections with local problems and providing them with real opportunities to solve them is one of the best ways to prepare future generations to address climate change.

Photography credits for main image:

Gardener sharing tomatoes by Elaine Casap on Unsplash.

Girl picking strawberries by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.

Denim Fabric by ch1310 on Pixabay.

Storm drain by Mardo Bicca on Unsplash.

Stack of Denim by inmorino on Pixabay.

Savoy cabbage by Andrea Stöckel-Kowall on Pixabay.

Carrots by Free-Photos on Pixabay.

Article Written By:
MAS '20

Fellow at Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation

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