In Washington, Students Learn About Climate Change Like Nowhere Else was published on January 12, 2023 on Reasons to be Cheerful’s website
Article Excerpt: In science teacher Ali Coker’s sophomore biology class, students became farming activists attending a G7 summit. Coker wove in facts about food insecurity, and by the end of the week, her pupils were writing plans for local crops. The role play was all part of a lesson on food justice and the impacts of climate change on agriculture in the state of Washington, where Coker teaches at Camas High School.
Though Camas High is in a semi-rural region of the state, the topics were new to her students. Still, Coker says, she saw the exercise “activated something inside of them.”
She crafted the lesson based on a year of professional development with Washington state’s ClimeTime. The state education program helps high school teachers introduce climate change and environmental justice into their classrooms by focusing on how the issues are playing out in their backyards. Through seminars and in-person sessions, teachers (who participate voluntarily) become the students — soaking up knowledge from climate scientists, activists and science education professors.
Before enrolling, Coker says, “I honestly didn’t know what climate justice even meant. I knew about climate change from a scientific perspective. But then learning about the societal systems that go along with that and how different groups of people are impacted disproportionately by climate change — it was a really eye-opening experience.”
With ClimeTime, Washington is the first state in the US to explicitly put money toward K-12 climate change education. But nationally, at least 11 states have pending bills related to climate change education, according to the Campaign for Climate Literacy. Experts say preparing teachers will be key to successful implementation. Washington offers a model for how to fund and carry out that professional development.