Leaders from the New Jersey School Boards Association teamed up with experts from Sustainable Jersey and other stakeholders from the education community to release the “Report on K-12 Climate Change Needs in New Jersey,” during a Feb. 28 virtual news conference on Facebook Live.
The news conference included Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, executive director of NJSBA; Randall Solomon, executive director of Sustainable Jersey; John Henry, NJSBA senior manager for STEAM and sustainability; Dr. Lauren Madden, a professor in the School of Education at The College of New Jersey; Margaret Wang, chief operating officer and co-founder of Subject to Climate; Dale Rosselet, vice president of education at New Jersey Audubon; and Janet Bamford, chief public affairs officer at NJSBA. Moderating the conference was Michael Kvidahl, manager of digital communications and marketing at NJSBA.
The thought leaders teamed up to highlight the guidance in the newly published report, which will serve as a key resource for the school community to successfully navigate new learning standards adopted in June 2020 that made New Jersey the first state to incorporate K-12 climate change education across content areas.
As the experts prepared to reveal some of the suggestions in the report, Feinsod said, “As those of us who have spent our career working in public education can tell you, education is all about preparing students for the future – for the future belongs to them.” He added, “The future that awaits them will be greatly impacted to say the least by global warming – and that is a truism of every scientific forecast out there.”
He continued, “Learning about this topic will prepare students to understand and tackle the consequences of climate change and develop strategies to mitigate it. First lady Tammy Murphy was a driving force behind the climate change standards, and we thank her for her great vision on this issue.”
Committee Studied the Issue
After the new learning standards were adopted, NJSBA and Sustainable Jersey formed the Climate Change Thought Leadership Committee to determine strategies for meeting them, Feinsod said, noting that the group included local board members from throughout the state, along with individuals from the state and federal government, major education groups, nonprofit environmental groups and the private sector.
The report includes 34 recommendations that focus on professional development, curriculum, community-based climate change education and what boards of education can do to support the process.
Solomon, whose Sustainable Jersey network includes 376 school districts, said, “Achieving a sustainable future collectively is our greatest challenge – it is one that requires new approaches to solving sustainability issues.”
He noted that the first lady and the New Jersey Department of Education have shown great leadership in moving this issue forward and that “experts agree we will not solve climate change without a major educational initiative.” He added that it would be a “monumental task” that will require “all hands on deck.”
By teaching students about climate change, “the goal is to give the leaders of tomorrow the full breadth of what they need to know to find and implement solutions as members of society,” Solomon said.
Madden reviewed some of the report’s key findings – as well as the committee’s goals and vision in writing the report
“Our vision from the beginning was to ensure all teachers, students and educational leaders in New Jersey understand climate change and are empowered to develop solutions to climate-related problems,” she said. “We don’t want to just think about the problem – we want to think about how we go about trying to solve it.”
One of the committee’s primary goals was to determine how to fully prepare teachers to integrate climate change into the curriculum across grade levels and content areas, she said. “We also wanted to make sure school communities, including families, administrators, school board members and community partners are aware of scientifically accurate information on climate change,” she said.
She added that climate change efforts “need to be grounded locally” and students must understand that the effects of climate change in New Jersey will be different than elsewhere. She added that climate change will have a disproportionate effect on low-income communities and communities of color.
“We need to make clear this is a storm we are all facing but our boats are quite different,” she said. She also said, “We can’t simply think about polar bears on ice floes – we need to think about what is happening right here in our state.”
Another critical need is to make sure teachers feel comfortable and confident in accessing resources to provide great instruction across grade levels, Madden said.
The Work Continues
Rosselet noted that an outgrowth of the committee’s report has been the formation of the New Jersey Climate Change Education Initiative, which is an effort to provide additional resources to New Jersey teachers – one that contributors hope will become a national model for climate change education integration.
She said the report – as well as the undertaking of the new initiative – underscores New Jersey’s commitment to making the state and planet more resilient. “There are so many opportunities for teachers and their students to focus on real-life learning that includes opportunities to take age-appropriate action that can make our community more resilient,” she said.
Wang, who in addition to being the chief operating officer and co-founder of Subject to Climate is a former high school teacher, said she knows that the education community must be supported with resources to integrate climate change into their curriculums.
“We are pleased to adapt our current national platform to offer to New Jersey a user-friendly platform to enable educators to find the exact resources they will need to teach about climate change come September 2022 and the resources that work in their context, in their classrooms,” she said.
The Subject to Climate platform allows educators to find credible, unbiased resources on climate change at no cost, she said. It will offer more than 1,000 teaching resources verified by a science and teacher review team – all in alignment with New Jersey teaching standards, she said.
While there are many great resources already available to teach about climate change, it can be overwhelming to track them down and vet them, Wang said. “Getting teachers comfortable with the tools that the New Jersey Department of Education has on its site and what we are hoping to provide to this initiative is a first step,” she said.