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Wash U Brings Climate Change Education To University City High School

K-12 Climate Across Curriculum program coordinator Alex Morales-Heil engages teachers from all over the area on how to address climate change in the classroom in 2019.
Washington University Climate Change Program
K-12 Climate Across Curriculum Program Coordinator Alex Morales-Heil talks to teachers from the St. Louis region about how they can discuss climate change in the classroom.

Washington University instructors will provide University City High School teachers with the tools to teach students about climate change this school year.

The K-12 Climate Across Curriculum program aims to teach about climate change through many different lenses — incorporating history, politics and language arts into the discussion.

“We want to show the students the interconnectedness of climate change. We want to show that it’s all of our shared lift to effect change in this area,” said Christina Sneed, a University High School language arts curriculum instructor.

Utilizing reading guides, podcasts and artwork, the interdisciplinary lesson plans focus on how climate change affects the St. Louis area. The approach should make the content more relevant to students, said Alex Morales-Heil, who coordinates the Wash U program.

“A lot of times we think about rising waters and the coast, and it feels like it’s not going to affect us here in the middle of our continent, but it really will,” Morales-Heil said.

The program began in 2019 with the aim of providing science education outreach to local high schools. Environmental Studies professor Beth Martin and Morales-Heil gathered 15 teachers from 12 school districts in the area to identify the resources teachers needed to address threats to the environment.

“Teachers who weren’t teaching about climate change felt like it didn’t fit into their subject matter,” Morales-Heil said. “So, we set out to identify how an English teacher or a social studies teacher can bring climate change into their classroom, since, really, climate change encompasses everything.”

The partnership is among various Wash U initiatives to help teachers address climate change.

The Blue Skies Discussion Group, led by chemistry professor Sophia Hayes, meets monthly to help teachers learn about the latest climate change scholarship.

“We want to equip teachers to both know what the scholarship is, but also know what some of the climate denial arguments are so they can be prepared to respond to those,” Hayes said. “We’re arming them with as much information as possible.”

Hayes said that conversations surrounding climate change can often be clouded with inaccurate or dated information. The meetings help teachers develop a deeper understanding of climate change science by bringing in experts to address common misconceptions.

“We try to explain the context for the different debates that emerge,” Hayes said. “We acknowledge that there are controversies, but we also acknowledge what the general scientific consensus on those topics are.”

The context is helpful to teachers of all grade levels, Hayes said.

The majority of St. Louis students encounter lessons on climate change before high school. In some classrooms, climate change is being taught as early as fifth grade, said Lauren Ashman of the Washington University Institute for School Partnership.

Ashman assists in writing science curriculum for elementary and middle school classrooms in the area. She said the key to approaching young students about climate change is presenting the problem alongside potential solutions.

“It’s this idea that you want kids to understand the problem and you also want to help them understand that they can make changes and help,” Ashman said.

This solution-based approach will be implemented at University City High School, where Sneed hopes students will be empowered to consider tangible ways they can help protect the environment.

“We tell them they don’t have to wait until they’re adults to make change,” Sneed said. “Do it now.”

Follow Kendall on Twitter:@kcrawfish33

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