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Who Stands for the Planet?

Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash

By Hinda Majri and Maria Mongelluzzo

Climate change is a topic dominating many conversations in recent years. From regular reports of the increased occurrence and intensity of natural disasters, like wildfires in Australia, to young activists like Greta Thunberg voicing their concerns on a global stage, to the continued fight for environmental protections and policies, such as the Green New Deal, climate change seems to be on everyone’s mind.

But who is responsible for teaching K12 students about climate change in the United States and ensure future generations have a more sustainable relationship with the Earth? What impact does climate change curriculum have outside the classroom?


The UN Sustainable Development Goal 13[1] specifically addresses climate change. Target 13.3[2] and Indicator 13.3.1[3] stress the need to incorporate climate change curricula at every level of education (UN Sustainable Development Goals, n.d.). Current UNESCO data suggests their focus is on the targets and indicators related to resilience and adaptation to natural disasters and hazards (United Nations, n.d.). This seems appropriate given the dire circumstances surrounding natural disasters but leaves individual countries, states, and even schools to make decisions about how, and if at all, they will address climate change education.

While UNESCO data is not currently available, other institutions have attempted to gauge attitudes about climate change education in schools in the United States. An NPR/Ipsos survey considered teacher opinions of climate change education in the classroom[4] (Kamenetz, 2019).

Using this and other information, the U.S. can begin to understand public opinions and how to incorporate climate change education into classrooms.

Who Takes a Stand Around the World?

It is important to consider the progress made by other countries in incorporating climate change education into the classroom.

In late 2019, Italy became the first and only country to create a policy that requires public elementary schools to incorporate climate change education into courses including geography, math and physics (Nace, 2019).

In January of this year, New Zealand created a national climate change curriculum for middle school students. While not compulsory, teachers will have access to classroom materials and teacher resources to help students learn about climate action and managing climate anxiety (Ramirez, 2020).

Who Takes a Stand in the U.S.?

In most U.S. states, it is up to individual schools or school districts to decide how to incorporate climate change education into their curricula, a challenging task considering the little resources and lack of funding most schools are facing.

Thankfully, many organizations and initiatives provide support to schools, local districts and communities. NASA dedicates a section of their website to professional development courses, workshops and resources for schools. The STEM412 Global Climate Change Education for Middle School course, for example, is a collaborative effort with PBS Teacherline that offers education professionals training on how to engage middle-school students and help them understand the causes and effects of climate change (PBS, n.d.).

In 2019, Washington state invested $4 million to train teachers on how to incorporate climate education into their lessons and classrooms (Pailthorp, 2019). Focusing on local, visible problems, hundreds of teachers have participated in various training across the state including going on-site locations where climate change problems, such as wildfires and sea-level rise, can be seen and better understood (Pailthorp, 2019). For example, during a training focused on solid waste and garbage, teachers visited and learned from Seattle Public Utilities (Pailthorp, 2019).

The Zinn Education Project offers workshops for schools and teachers unions as well as classroom-tested lessons for elementary through high school through their Teach Climate Justice Campaign. Their People’s Curriculum for the Earth is a collection of articles, role plays, simulations, stories, poems, and graphics to help animate teaching about the environmental crisis.

One of the simplest and most successful actions the Zinn Education Project promotes is to take the pledge to teach climate justice. Sarah Giddings, Middle School Social Studies teacher in Mesa, Arizona took the pledge and says that lessons on climate change took her students “from a place of what appeared to be indifference and complacency, to a place of inquiry, compassion, and activism” (Zinn, 2020).

Teachers also get students involved in activities like The Climate Change Challenge where students come up with creative solutions to reduce harmful effects of climate change. Stephanie Kadison, a High Science Teacher from Alabama, shared that “one student came up with [a] light switch that turned off if there were no sound waves for more than 30 minutes to save energy” (Bigelow & Swinehart, 2020).

Beyond the classroom, the Zinn Education Project encourages youth engagement by offering a list of opportunities to engage in climate justice actions like the Nature Bridge Summer Programs or Climate Generation.

Finally, the project also encourages grassroot organizing by featuring successful resolutions to adopt a climate curriculum like the one passed in Portland School district from the continued pressure from students, parents and teachers.

The Impact

Students are having an impact outside of the classroom. From what they learn in school, students are influencing their parents, changing and opening their parents’ minds about climate change: “The North Carolina study, published in May 2019 in research journal Nature Climate Change, found that middle school-aged students who learned about climate change were pretty good at getting their parents to think differently about the issue.” (Sayler, 2019)

Climate change education also has a real impact on communities: “In 2016, Nature Energy released a study that showed that Girl Scouts who learned about energy-saving techniques were able to bring them into their homes. Kids have also proven effective at getting their parents to recycle more, according to a study in Waste Management” (Sayler, 2019).

As our climate continues to change, climate change education offers some hope. Hope that decision makers will make this a priority for future generations.

We leave you with this final thought:


[1] Goal 13: take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
[2] Target 13.3: improve education, awareness-raising and human institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning
[3] Indicator 13.3.1: number of countries that have integrated mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early earning into primary, secondary and tertiary curricula
[4] The NPR/Ipsos survey resulted from polling approximately 1,000 adults and 500 teachers


Bigelow, B. & Swinehart, T. (2020). A People’s Curriculum for the Earth: Teaching Climate Change and the Environmental Crisis. Retrieved from https://www.zinnedproject.org/materials/peoples-curriculum-for-the-earth

Kamenetz, Anya. (2019, April 22). Most teachers don’t teach climate change; 4 in 5 parents wish they did. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2019/04/22/714262267/most-teachers-dont-teach- climate-change-4-in-5-parents-wish-they-did

Nace, Trevor. (2019, November 19). Italian law to require climate change education in grade school. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/trevornace/2019/11/19/italy-law-to-require- climate-change-education-in-grade-school/#12c82e765dae

NASA. (2020, February 12). Professional development courses, workshops and resources. https://climate.nasa.gov/resources/education/edOpps/

Pailthorp, Bellamy. (2019, March 4). Washington invests $4 million this year to bring climate science into classrooms. Retrieved from https://www.knkx.org/post/washington-invests-4- million-year-bring-climate-science-classrooms

PBS NASA. (n.d.). Resources for Teaching Global Climate Change in Middle School. http://www.pbs.org/teacherline/catalog/courses/STEM412/?utm_source=em&utm_medium=new s&utm_campaign=courses_sum10

Ramirez, R. (2020, January 14). New Zeal(and) for climate education. Retrieved from https://grist.org/beacon/new-zealand-for-climate-education/

Sayler, Z. (2019, May 23).

UN Sustainable Development Goals. (n.d.). Knowledge Platform. Retrieved from https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg13

United Nations. (n.d.) The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2019. Retrieved from https://undesa.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=48248a6f94604ab98f6ad29fa 182efbd

Zinn Education Project. (2020). https://www.zinnedproject.org/campaigns/teach-climate-justice

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Gonzales, CA: How a small town is solving youth unemployment

  • By Lincoln Ngaboyisonga and Alexandre Dumouza
Image result for gonzales ca

Youth unemployment is one of the most alarming economic challenges the United States is currently facing. According to recent reports, 5.5 million youth who are 16-24 are neither enrolled in school nor employed. This statistic represents 12.5% of young adults in the U.S., which is more than double the adult unemployment rate. This problem is nationwide and is even more disparaging in small-town cities such as Gonzales, California. This issue is often a symptom of employment and income issues faced by these kinds of cities. There is a growing focus in California to make sure youth are accessing quality education while obtaining the necessary skills to enter the workforce. Gonzales in particular with a population of approximately 10,000—has an 11% unemployment rate, and 20.4% poverty rate, which are both higher than the California average.

Multiple factors influence youth unemployment. Besides the various familial, social, financial, and educational factors contributing to this issue, the problem is also demographical. Brookings explains that this problem is more prevalent in areas with higher-than-average unemployment rates and other economically destabilizing factors. Such factors include cities facing issues such as de-industrialization (or lack there-of), lower investment rates, shifting economic trends to sectors such as technology, and less densely populated areas with agricultural heritage, Gonzales meets all these criteria.  

Extracurricular Solutions in Gonzales

Solving the challenge of youth unemployment in small cities like Gonzales is not just about preparing young adults to enter the workforce. It is about making sure that employment opportunities are available, and that the training and preparation given to the youth is contextualized to the employment demand and prevalent industries in cities experiencing the same economic and employment issue.

Text Box: Gonzales High School students Pablo Mendoza, 16, Elizabeth Aireola, 15, work in a broccoli field at Pisoni Farms. (Vern Fisher - Monterey Herald)
Gonzales High School students Pablo Mendoza, 16, Elizabeth Aireola, 15, work in a broccoli field at Pisoni Farms. (Vern Fisher – Monterey Herald)

To increase student motivation, Gonzales is coming up with various ways of creating innovative opportunities for teens and young adults. One of them is to create a Teen Innovation Center, which promotes college readiness, social entrepreneurship, academic success and innovation. The proposed project will transform a former medical office into an innovation space where youth in Gonzales can have access to resources such as computers to work on STEM projects, cultivate their artistic side and create new ideas. This proposal was made in a city council decision-making process through the creation of a youth council. The program enabled students to utilize their abilities, add to the innovative ideas and future plans for the city, and express their needs in the program.

Another initiative that is preparing youth to solidify their skills and knowledge is the Wings of Knowledge program. The program, which began in 2015, seeks to empower students by focusing on the curriculum application of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics). According to the co-founder, the program’s purpose is to create a nexus for students to explore local science and engineering, while allowing them to excel at their own pace. What’s unique about this program is that students don’t only learn about such technologies at the comfort of their desk, they get to go out and engage in the field. With the option of joining an agriculture group, students get the opportunity of learning about water studies and climatology, which they can later instruct to younger elementary school students

Success in the Classroom

In conjunction with informal educational activities, the Gonzales school district is already excelling in providing assistance to aspiring youth who are seeking to develop their skills post-high school. Gonzales supports K-12 students by creating a healthy environment where students can find their passions and learn for the betterment of their own educational careers. Other examples emerge from the schools’ website as it serves as an excellent guide for students seeking higher education. Gonzales high school also offers several initiatives by providing students with options such as their career exploration from their school curriculum, and a career technical day. They also have an annual college-career week at the high school, which can spark a career interest in post-secondary education. 

Knowledge, skills, and confidence are the cornerstone of accessing desirable jobs in the U.S. for youth employment. Programs such as those offered in Gonzales provide a foundation to exercise job readiness. Despite the various challenges behind youth unemployment, Education, public-private partnerships, and grassroots initiatives must also play a factor as part of a holistic process that can create ideation, innovation, and spark new ways of connecting skills and knowledge to contribute to future jobs. No matter how many services attempt to enhance youth opportunities, for this process to be effective, youth development must be at the center to create impact and stimulate growth.  


College and Career Readiness. (n.d.). Retrieved February 15, 2020, from https://www.gonzalesusd.net/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=1485777&type=d&pREC_ID=1634117

Disconnected Youth. (n.d.). Retrieved February 15, 2020, from https://opportunitynation.org/disconnected-youth/

Gonzales, California. (2019, December 10). Retrieved February 15, 2020, from https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/features/culture-of-health-prize/2019-winner-gonzales-california.html

Gonzales, CA. (n.d.). Retrieved February 18, 2020 from Gonzales, CA

Reyes, J., & Monterey Herald. (2018, September 11). Know your roots: Wings of Knowledge program educates students and farmers. Retrieved February 15, 2020, from https://www.montereyherald.com/2018/02/02/know-your-roots-wings-of-knowledge-program-educates-students-and-farmers/

Ross, M., & Bateman, N. (2018, January 31). Millions of young adults have entered the workforce with no more than a high school diploma. Retrieved February 15, 2020, from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2018/01/31/millions-of-young-adults-have-entered-the-workforce-with-no-more-than-a-high-school-diploma/

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