Climate change must now be taught to N.J. students. What will new curriculum look like?

Published: Sep. 19, 2022

Before he was the assistant principal of Public School #5, Albert Padilla was the district’s science supervisor, instrumental in infusing climate change into the curriculum of more than 26,000 students in Jersey City for more than two years.

Now that the state has started to require the topic of climate change to be taught in all New Jersey schools, Padilla thinks about all the ways the district is uniquely situated to elevate classroom lessons.

What assignment might be lurking behind the biodiversity of a local park? Or what data could be collected from the environs of a nearby neighborhood to help students learn about environmental justice?

“One minute, you’re in Liberty State Park enjoying nature. Next minute, you walk toward downtown and you’re in this concrete jungle. So, part of it is really trying to, when possible, have our students venture outside the classroom and engage in problem-based learning by having them look at issues affecting their community,” Padilla told NJ Advance Media.

Starting this fall, public school students in the Garden State are the first nationwide required to learn about climate change and its impacts on human society, as part of new standards adopted by the state Board of Education in June 2020. The New Jersey Student Learning Standards includes language that requires climate change education across seven areas: 21st century life and careers, comprehensive health and physical education, science, social studies, technology, visual and performing arts, and world languages.

While the new curriculum was scheduled to be implemented in September 2021, that was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said.

As districts embarked on a new school year in early September, New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy, who had pushed for the incorporation of climate change into the state’s curriculum, said in a statement that the new standards “will give our children the tools necessary to combat the effects of climate change.”

“We are building the world’s next generation of climate literate leaders, including policymakers, historians, teachers, and more, who will discover new ways to address the climate crisis,” she said.

But that will take time, said Lauren Madden, an elementary science education professor at The College of New Jersey, who authored a 36-page report titled “Report on K-12 Climate Change Education Needs in New Jersey.”

The report, commissioned by non-profit Sustainable Jersey and the New Jersey School Boards Association, was released in February and breaks down how New Jersey could best prepare for adding climate change to public school curriculums. A hub to help support educators in the state to roll out the curriculum was launched as a result, the NJSBA, a federation of all of the state’s local boards of education, announced in June.

“We have the best public school teachers in the world here in our state and we want to make sure that they’re prepared to implement this new curriculum because it is something new to put into their day-to-day work,” Madden said over the phone.

Finding effective ways to adapt climate change to existing coursework will be a work-in-progress, she added.

“They need accurate information that is developmentally appropriate for their grade level. So they need to make sure that they themselves feel comfortable with understanding what climate change is, what the causes of climate change are, and what some of the effects are here in New Jersey,” Madden continued, “and maybe more importantly, what are some of the actions we can take to slow the progress of climate change?”

A recent study of 164 K-8 New Jersey teachers, conducted by Madden, found many teachers reported feeling uncertain about climate change content and their ability to implement the curriculum in classrooms.

Important for the success of climate change curriculum, the report highlighted, will also be discussion of the disproportionate effects of climate change on low-income residents, people of color and immigrant communities.

Having students collect data locally as part of assignments, learn about the impact of the environment on residents and explore what business owners and other stakeholders are striving to improve in their communities are among the components of how climate change will be taught in Jersey City, said Padilla, an assistant principal.

“In the lower grades, it’s really focusing on topics that are easier to understand such as recycling and human impact on different species of plants and animals. As you move up to the upper grades, you can start to look at geographical regions of the world and how they’re impacted,” Padilla said.

“I think it’s about changing an individual’s perspective on environmental sustainability,” Padilla added. “I believe the older generations looked at the planet as a big place that could not be negatively impacted by humans ... Our students — because of technology — understand the world is a smaller place. We’re teaching this younger generation to be advocates for the environment, to be agents of change and hopefully to change the mindset of others to be cognizant of the world around them.”

For Padilla, exposing Black and brown students to science, engineering and other career opportunities through climate education will be among the added advantages of the new curriculum.

“The impact of climate change is woven through the district’s curriculum in ways to show the practical, everyday impact,” said Pat Politano, spokesman for Elizabeth schools, the second largest district in the state with over 28,000 students.

“The lessons are taught through partnerships the district has with groups that connect students directly to their environment,” Politano added. “These partnerships and lessons have brought national recognition to the district.”

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, visited with Elizabeth students last fall for a walk along the Elizabeth River to learn how climate change and preservation efforts are taught in and out of classrooms.

“Our physical education classes use the trail for hiking and similar activities, green spaces for fitness activities. Students are directly in the environment and climate change is incorporated into those (physical) ed lessons,” Politano said, noting that the district also partners with non-profits and other organizations in the area to improve lessons.

Kathleen Tierney, director of science in Newark Public Schools, which is the largest school district with nearly 38,000 students, said educators there are similarly planning out what classroom lessons will look like.

“We have some of our schools working with hydroponics. It’s not a new concept, but it may be new in our schools — indoor growing spaces, the concept of vertical farming, the garden-based education and things like that. A lot of students are doing all of that for the very first time and hopefully we will be able to sustain that over time,” Tierney said.

She added: “I think the concept of climate change and all that’s happening with it is a great springboard to get into those conversations around citizenship and bettering our community.”

Do you like this post?

Showing 2 reactions

commented 2022-09-22 09:11:50 -0700
How sad to see young healthy people wearing masks when they are at virtually no risk of Covid and all vulnerable people are vaccinated.
published this page in News and Politics 2022-09-20 03:19:36 -0700