By LAUREL BUSBY
Special to Circling the News
Senior Camran Mahmoodi leaned forward to share details of a climate change lesson in his Improv class at Palisades Charter High School.
“I wasn’t expecting it,” he said. “It was funny and engaging. I learned so much.”
The instruction came from a fellow student who visited the class to present information on climate change. Mahmoodi and his classmates absorbed the facts and then used them for a humorous improvisation between two characters: one a scientist and the other a climate change denier.
At the inaugural Climate Summit Day on April 22 this spring, AP Environmental Science students and the school’s Human Rights Watch Student Task Force (STF) fanned across campus to share their knowledge both in classrooms and at tables on the quad during lunch. More than 90 classrooms had climate change lessons during fourth period, taught by both students and teachers. The instruction ranged from the statistical analysis of greenhouse emissions in math class to the study of ocean garbage patches in marine biology.
Junior Harrison Rautbort found the lesson on exponential growth in his math class engaging. “It was a real-life example of the equations we had been learning,” he said.
Freshman Tsurono Toyoda, who heard about mass consumption, said “It made us think about whether we really need to buy something.”
The event was the result of ongoing student advocacy led by the STF. The group began campaigning last school year to include climate change education in the curriculum and brought a resolution to Pali’s Board of Trustees that addressed this goal.
The resolution, unanimously passed on May 18, 2021, committed the school to achieving sustainability, solar energy, and climate education, said student and STF co-secretary Madelyn Rahimi at the event.
“This resolution is about the urgency of change and inspiring students to agitate for their human right to be educated about the climate change that threatens us all,” Rahimi, a junior, said.
Teacher Steve Engelmann, who had already been incorporating climate change education into his AP Environmental Science classes, said that many of his students lacked previous exposure to the topic during their K-12 curriculum.
“It was just assumed that kids would get the subject in their science class,” he said. “But I’ve had a bunch of kids who say they’ve never had a class that talked about climate science until my class. That’s what we’re trying to prevent. The educational component puts us in a better place to address the consequences of climate change…. It shouldn’t just be a one-day event. It should be popping up everywhere in every type of class.”
That type of wide-ranging, integrated climate change instruction is the school’s next stated goal, but the April 22 event provided the initial lessons. To prepare, STF Liaison Jordan Todd provided ready-made lesson plans at a faculty meeting, and Director of Academic Achievement Monica Iannessa held several seventh-period training sessions with interested teachers. Substitutes had videos available to share with students on both teen activist Greta Thunberg and the environmental damage caused by microplastics.
Freshman Max May was one of the students who watched a video on plastics. “It was an eye-opening experience on how the plastic industry is affecting the planet,” he said.
The lessons ranged across every subject. For example, in art class, some students studied not only political artists whose creations showcase environmental issues, but also artists whose work itself damaged the environment. Some foreign-language classes featured climate change videos in the target language, while others discussed the topic’s resonance in a particular country. A tenth-grade world history class surveyed the history of ocean acidification over time. Poetry addressing climate change was recited in a literature class.
Afterwards, during lunch, as presentations on related subjects were available in the quad, students crowded around many of the tables. Art teacher Angelica Pereyra, an STF advisor standing next to one of the booths, said that during her class, students “were really excited about the topic.”
“Doing it collectively as a school was really special,” she said. “This is the beginning for many teachers…They now have one climate change lesson in their arsenal.”
To expand the lessons from an annual event into a standard part of the school’s curriculum is the next step. Iannessa said in April that in the coming months, she would work with faculty to include climate change instruction into the school’s curriculum across all subjects.
“I could not be more pleased with the result” of the first Climate Summit Day, Iannessa said. “We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there.”