Hot Topic

Photos by Scott Buschman

Last spring, when U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale) came to visit Oroville High School, science teacher Rich Hogan asked him a question about climate change. The congressman’s reaction — in front of students and staff — surprised the Oroville Secondary Teachers Association member.

“He got pretty defensive and asked me how long I had been a teacher,” recalls Hogan. “He wanted to know if I was teaching both sides of the issue. It created quite a stir.
I didn’t know he was a climate change denier.”

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Rich Hogan

The heated exchange occurred very close to the Oroville Dam, where 200,000 people were evacuated last winter after the emergency spillway began to erode, threatening catastrophic flooding. Scientists assert that we can expect to see more flooding emergencies in a hotter world due to climate change.

Politics should not determine what is taught in science, says Hogan, who recently received a book in the mail from the Heartland Institute (which is funded by the Koch brothers) challenging scientific evidence of human-caused climate crisis. According to the Associated Press (AP), thousands of teachers were mailed Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming, a book that the National Science Teachers Association calls “propaganda” and encourages educators to recycle.

“We need to teach students to wade through information and become independent critical thinkers and be socially aware of issues that will affect their generation more than mine,” says Hogan, who has taught science for more than 20 years and is a member of the Instructional Leadership Corps (ILC), a partnership between Stanford University and CTA that promotes best practices for the new standards. “And we need to do it fast, before we get past the tipping point.”

Teaching the facts

The debate over teaching about global warming in schools is heating up, according to the AP, which reports several states have considered measures to teach opposing points of view about climate change. In 2012 in the Southern California community of Los Alamitos, for example, the school board told teachers they must prove climate change lessons are “politically balanced” rather than scientifically accurate, which created an outcry.

Science has shown conclusively that human activity is changing the global climate. Even the 2017 “Climate Science Special Report,” authored by scientists from 13 federal agencies as part of the congressionally mandated National Climate Assessment done every four years, forcefully supports this view. (The report is pending approval by the current administration.)

This and many other scientific studies, and President Trump’s decisions to withdraw America from the Paris climate accord and dismantle environmental protections, have given many educators a renewed sense of urgency to teach about the subject.

“We have a responsibility to teach about climate change. It’s happening in our world today.” – Darlene Killgore, Oxnard Educators Association

“We have a responsibility to teach about climate change,” says Darlene Killgore, an Oxnard Educators Association member and science teacher at R.J. Frank Middle School. “It’s happening in our world today. You teach the facts, and students make their own decisions. You can look at changes during the Ice Age and warming trends that are documented historically — and see that now our planet is warming up at an increased rate that has never been seen before.”

Indeed, Earth reached its highest average temperature on record in 2016, breaking the record set just a year earlier in 2015, which beat the previous record in 2014. Most climate scientists think global warming has contributed to unusually devastating weather patterns in recent years such as drought, heat waves, and intense precipitation and storms. The massive rainfall from Hurricane Harvey in August may have been exacerbated by climate change.

Killgore incorporates global warming into multiple lessons and units in hopes students will understand that climate change affects where they live.

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Darlene Killgore with student Kelsy Rodriguez

“We talk about solar power, wind and other sustainable energy versus the burning of fossil fuels. We can start with small ways to change our dependence on fossil fuels by walking to school, riding a bike or taking mass transit. These students will be voters soon, and the next generation will need to decide what laws should be in place.”

One of her students, seventh-grader Harmony Svestka, admits she worries about climate change. “It’s scary to me because it could cause our world to end. It will affect my generation, but it’s not our fault.”

Teaching about climate change is challenging, says Killgore, because schools are in the process of transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and teachers desperately need new curriculum with up-to-date information.

Climate change challenges teachers

Under NGSS, teachers are being asked to teach not only the causes and impacts of climate change, but how science and engineering can help solve problems and inform policy. But materials are lacking.

A 2015 Stanford University study found textbooks used in California schools — the same books still in use — contain misleading information about climate change. The good news is that new NGSS-aligned science textbooks will become available in 2019. Meanwhile, teachers must find supplemental materials themselves, and they are not always sure these materials are accurate, says Lisa Hegdahl, a science teacher at McCaffrey Middle School, member of the Galt Elementary Faculty Association, and former president of the California Science Teachers Association.

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Lisa Hegdahl

Nearly two-thirds of students in the U.S. are taught about climate change at school, but there is a great deal of room for improvement, say researchers from Pennsylvania State University, Wright State University in Ohio, and the National Center for Science Education in California. Their 2016 nationwide survey of 1,500 science teachers finds most students spend only an hour or two per year learning about climate change in middle and high school — and much of what they are taught is confusing or wrong. For example, only 38 percent of schoolchildren are taught that climate change is linked to fossil fuels. Seven percent of teachers surveyed attribute recent warming to natural causes. Another 22 percent say there is “significant disagreement” among scientists about the cause of global warming, when in fact 97 percent of climate scientists agree that it is caused by human activity.

Many teachers surveyed say they lack training to teach about climate change, and the information is changing so rapidly, it is difficult to keep up.

The study, published in the journal Science, concludes that giving short shrift to the subject — and sending mixed messages about climate change in the media — leaves students more susceptible to disinformation spread by political or corporate interests once they enter adulthood. The study also notes that the energy industry spends millions on climate denial research and supporting candidates who deny global warming.

Environment as a teaching tool

Science lab teacher Laurie Scheibner, Tahoe Truckee Education Association, recalls that California experienced a multiyear drought that was devastating for families in the area, many of whom depend on the skiing industry for their livelihood.

“But we shouldn’t get excited, just because we had normal snow last year,” she says. “We had a lot of rain-on-snow events, which caused immediate runoff, and then because of a winter with lots of snow, we also had big spring runoff. Students noticed how different this is in their short lifetimes. The runoff impacted everyone along the Truckee River and caused some flooding issues downstream.”

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Laurie Scheibner watches as her students test the “dam” they designed to hold back runoff water.

A study of the snowpack found last winter’s snow to be wetter (containing more water) than usual, which caused flooding and avalanches. In February, an avalanche buried the crest of the main mountain highway between Reno and Lake Tahoe beneath about 20 feet of snow. Climate change is also heating up the lake, causing algae to bloom and reducing clarity.

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Laurie Scheibner

“Because of climate change, we’ve had either no snow and drought conditions, or heavy wet snow because the ocean is warmer and is affecting global patterns,” says Scheibner.
She often asks students how people can adapt to climate change and how engineering might help. During a lesson last spring at Tahoe Lake Elementary School, she asked students to design dams to hold back runoff water, with a variety of manmade and natural materials including Popsicle sticks, rocks and pine needles, to see what worked best.

Beforehand, she showed clips of the Oroville Dam at its crisis point as an example of the need for engineering designs as the climate changes.

“This way I’m not just telling them what happens; they have to figure it out themselves,” she says. (To see more about this lesson, visit the PBS Kids website, to.pbs.org/2feIjIZ.)

Kelsi Himmel, who teaches AP environmental science and chemistry and biology at Argonaut High School in Jackson, takes students on wilderness excursions in nearby El Dorado National Forest to make them more aware of how climate change impacts their environment.

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Kelsi Himmel takes her high school students on wilderness excursions to see the effects of climate change firsthand.

“I’m a firm believer that if my students are going to make any real connection with their curriculum, they must view the impact of climate change firsthand, so we can discuss what we love about our area, why we live here, and why we want to keep it that way. They’ve seen the effects of multiple years of drought on our forest with bark beetles. You can see ridges of dead trees. Plants are more susceptible to beetles and other diseases after multiple years of drought and not having cold winters to kill them off.”

She recalls that when she was in college, there were very few degrees in environmental science, called the “gloom and doom” department. But today there is much to be hopeful about, with alternative energy sources and green technology. The challenge is finding a collective will to implement changes that can save the planet.

“We need to start talking to our friends, our families and politicians. We can cry about it — or we can examine ways to find solutions to our problems together.” – Aba Ngissah, Inglewood Teachers Association

Al Gore’s new documentary, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, asserts that the stakes have never been higher, but the perils of climate change can be overcome with human ingenuity and passion. A sequel to An Inconvenient Truth (2006), the documentary addresses the progress that’s been made to tackle the problem of climate change and Gore’s global efforts to persuade governmental leaders to invest in renewable energy, culminating in the landmark 2016 signing of the Paris climate agreement.

Climate change as a social justice issue

Aba Ngissah has been teaching climate change for two years at Hudnall Elementary School in Inglewood. She uses free materials available from a state program, the California Education and the Environment Initiative, to supplement her school’s science books. The ILC instructor and Inglewood Teachers Association member has also signed up for the organization’s in-person trainings and webinars.

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Aba Ngissah

“We talk about glaciers that are shrinking and how that affects animals, plant life and tundra,” says Ngissah. “We look at the rising waters and how that will affect islands. Students learned that some islands will disappear due to rising sea level. There’s going to be displacement of people and animals in coastal communities. One student was very aware of the social issues, noting that climate change affects poor people and those who live in Third World countries the most, where it becomes difficult to grow crops and sell them in the marketplace.”

Indeed, climate change disproportionately affects minority and low-income communities, notes the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, particularly regarding heat waves, poor air quality, and increasingly powerful events such as hurricanes. A United Nations report warns that up to 122 million more people worldwide could be living in extreme poverty by 2030 as a result of climate change and its impact on farmers’ incomes, which in turn would impact the ability of poor people to receive education and health care.

Ngissah believes students can relate more to climate change when it is viewed through a social justice lens, since most of her students are from low-income communities.
“It’s crazy to think about,” she says. “Climate change affects every part of humanity. My students ask how they can help change this. I tell them we can’t sit back; we need to start talking to our friends, our families and politicians. We can cry about it — or we can examine ways to find solutions to our problems together.”


 

Tools, Resources for Teaching About Climate Change

• An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power (2017), Al Gore’s sequel to An Inconvenient Truth (2006).
• Resources and professional development available from the California Education and the Environment Initiative (californiaeei.org).
• Videos on climate change produced by National Geographic (video.nationalgeographic.com), including “Climate Change 101 with Bill Nye.”
• Content from NASA Global Climate Change (climate.nasa.gov) and Climate Kids: NASA’s Eyes on the Earth (climatekids.nasa.gov), a website for young learners.
• Global Oneness Project’s (globalonenessproject.org) free resources and toolkits examining the impact of climate change on people and communities.
• Earth-Now, a free app that allows students to manipulate color scales on a 3-D model of Earth and see reports on temperature, carbon dioxide, sea level and other climate factors.
• National Center for Science Education at ncse.com/climate.


 

Facts About Climate Change

  • Global sea level rose about 8 inches in the last century. The rate in the past two decades, however, is nearly double that of the last century.
  • Earth’s average surface temperature has risen about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th century, driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere.
  • The oceans have absorbed much of this increased heat, with the top 700 meters (about 2,300 feet) of ocean showing warming of 0.302 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969.
  • The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are shrinking. Together, they’re losing more than 100 cubic miles of ice every year, which flows into the oceans and contributes to sea level rise. And the rate of ice loss is accelerating.
  • Since the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased
    by about 30 percent due to humans emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and from there into the oceans.
  • Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming
    trends over the past century are the result of human activity.

Curing the Lunchtime Lonelies

Looking for a place to eat in the cafeteria can be nerve-wracking and at times excruciating for students who are not part of the campus social scene. For shy, bullied or unpopular students, lunchtime is typically the most painful part of the day. Such scenes are staples in pop culture depictions of high school (who can forget the heroine of Mean Girls eating lunch in a bathroom stall, or Hannah Baker dining alone in 13 Reasons Why?). Feeling rejected and unconfident from these experiences can carry over into adulthood.

Lunchtime cliques divided along racial, religious or other lines create boundaries few dare to cross. This may intensify isolation, racism and intolerance on campus.

In the San Fernando Valley, teachers, education support professionals and students are working to change this. A few share tips to make lunchtime more inclusive.


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Jada Gamble and Paula Mercado at a lunchtime ice cream social in Ashley Cooper’s classroom.

Start a ‘No One Eats Alone’ program

Ashley Cooper’s classroom at Thousand Oaks High School is more than just a place where students take health, biology and peer mentoring classes. It’s also a place for students to make new friends during lunchtime. On any given day, 30 to 40 students find a safe haven in Room E7.

Cooper started a No One Eats Alone program at her school to make lunchtime less lonely for students who are socially awkward, new on campus or seeking a wider friendship circle. Several students volunteer as peer mentors, who help introduce students to others and socialize.

Recently Cooper received a letter from the mother of a ninth-grader who said her child usually came home from school in tears, and now walks through the door with a smile.

“It is making a difference,” says Cooper. “Students feel that teachers and other students at school care about them. And we have noticed improvement in the classroom when it comes to behavior and grades. Students are happier overall.”

A national organization, Beyond Differences, launched the No One Eats Alone program in California in 2012. Today schools in all 50 states participate.

Starting a program was a natural extension of Cooper’s peer mentoring class. Created after a student committed suicide, the program offers support to students struggling with loneliness, depression or anxiety. The goal is to make students feel welcome, rather than underscoring that they have nobody to eat lunch with.

Teens perceived as isolated by Cooper and the peer mentors are issued invitations to lunchtime events such as pizza parties or ice cream socials. For some, it is the first time they’ve been invited to anything in high school. The program has become so popular that students without invitations are showing up. Cooper believes a bigger venue will be needed soon.

It is making a difference. Students feel that teachers and other students at school care about them. – Ashley Cooper, Unified Association of Conejo Teachers

“It’s become an everyday program,” says Cooper, who belongs to the Unified Association of Conejo Teachers. “Everyone is welcome — and we still issue invitations to those who are not feeling connected to campus.”

Participants call themselves “The Lunch Bunch,” and during a recent ice cream social, there was plenty of laughter, visiting and good will.

“I didn’t know what to think when I received an invitation,” admits Rachael Hood, a senior last year. “But I thought, ‘Why not branch out a bit,’ and I came back every day. I made new friends. I’ve become a little more confident. I’ve become a little more comfortable.”

Madison Young, who began attending as a sophomore, says it is a relief to sit with others who aren’t going to judge her and people she can relax and feel “goofy” with.

“Joining the Lunch Bunch helped me meet others and come out of my shell,” says Sam Barton, who didn’t know very many people on campus when he enrolled as a freshman.

Peer mentors say they benefit just as much as those they invite. Cooper was surprised by this.

“Peer mentors are popular kids, but it’s come to light that they have just as many social insecurities as other students — they just mask it better,” Cooper says. “Everybody worries about what people think — especially with so much social media. I am so proud of their authentic compassion for others and their desire to support their peers.”

Peer mentor Melissa Franco says it has been a learning opportunity, and she has enjoyed getting to know others outside of her social circle.

“It feels like one big family hanging out for lunch.”

Peer mentor Jaylynn Boyd puts it in simpler terms.

“It just makes me feel happy,” she smiles.

For more information about the No One Eats Alone program, visit beyonddifferences.org.

Start a Humanitarian Club

When incidents of racism on social media rocked Buena High School in Ventura in January 2017, Farah Ali decided it was time to bring students together by forming a lunchtime club to explore differences in cultures, races and religions. The special education paraeducator joined forces with a colleague — college and career teacher Emmet Cullen — to create the Humanitarian Initiative Club, which meets Wednesdays during lunch.

The club includes students from diverse backgrounds, and has general education students as well as those with special needs.

Ali, who is Muslim, wants to make inclusion the new cool at school, because she feels the divisiveness on campus reflects the global situation in today’s political climate.

“A lot of people have forgotten what it means to be human, so we formed a club to promote humanity and inclusiveness. We make sure everyone has a voice on campus, so we can have an environment where people feel confident and develop a sense of self-esteem,” says Ali, a member of the Ventura Education Support Professionals Association.

“Regardless of who people are and what they look like, they will be treated with empathy, compassion and respect here,” says Cullen, a member of the Ventura Unified Education Association. “Being humanitarians helps students connect to the world around us.”

Club President Olivia Velasquez, a senior this year, says it offers more than a safe place to eat lunch. She believes the rich discussions will eventually help transform the overall school climate.

Senior Mackenzie Pina thinks the Humanitarian Initiative Club helps students feel more hopeful about the future.

“The world isn’t all bad. But when bad things happen, it’s what you hear about. One of my goals here as a student is becoming empowered to make changes in the world. I want other students to know that together, we can be that positive change.”

Pride and Respect

When Pedro Martinez gives students their marching orders, the boys and girls fall into formation and march across the campus of Hawthorne High School. Their uniforms are impeccably clean and pressed, their expressions are solemn. When they skillfully toss and twirl their wooden rifles in the air, they catch them — in most cases without missing a beat. Martinez stands at the sidelines barking orders, wearing a Navy uniform and a proud expression.

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Martinez tells his students, “You must have pride in your country, state, community, school, and yourself.”

Martinez, 62, has been teaching Navy Junior ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) classes for 14 years. He earned a special subject credential to teach ROTC from CSU Long Beach. The former Navy man and UFW organizer is also active with his own union. He’s vice president of the Centinela Valley Secondary Teachers Association and serves on CTA’s State Council.

His students learn much more than military skills. They make underwater robots that can move objects through an obstacle course and enter them in competitions. They learn map, compass and shipbuilding skills. They built a miniature replica of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt and entered it in a Memorial Day parade.

Their extracurricular activites include everything from entering ROTC competitions to studying cyber security, engaging in pellet gun target practice, and performing at memorial services and veterans’ events.

Sophomore Kevin Villalobos says some students enroll in ROTC because they think it will be an easy elective, but then find out it’s anything but.

“This program is not easy. We work hard, and we have a strong work ethic. But like many things in life, it’s worth it.”

Javier Moreno, a junior, says the course helped him overcome shyness and develop confidence. “I speak out in my other classes and raise my hand now,” he says.

The Navy pays for course materials and computers, and 50 percent of Martinez’s salary.

“I want to instill pride in my students,” says Martinez. “It’s definitely part of my curriculum to explain that you must have pride in your country, state, community, school and yourself.”

He is aware that some people object to ROTC classes and that critics believe their purpose is to recruit students into the military, which could result in death or injuries. But the military, he points out, can be a way out of poverty and offers money for college and training in specific areas such as electronics, engineering and cyber intelligence, which may lead to successful careers.

“Our ROTC classes are not there to recruit students,” he says. “We are only there to train them in Navy curriculum. Very few of my students actually join the military.”

Few may enlist, but most learn discipline that keeps them in line. To stay in his class, they must keep their grades up, stay out of trouble and be respectful.

“My approach is that if you want respect, you have to learn how to give respect. And my students know that if they want to be in my class, they have to perform well in all their classes.”

The teacher they call “Chief” has clearly earned their admiration.

“I’m learning respect,” says Izaak Lopez, a sophomore. “I’ve learned that I have to be presentable. I’ve learned maturity. I’ve learned commitment. I’ve become responsible.”

Jessie Vales, a sophomore, says the ROTC class helps him do better in his other classes. “I’ve straightened up a lot,” he explains.

Briyit Sandoval graduated last year and is considering enlisting in the U.S. Marines. “Because I am interested in the military, I thought ‘why not take a class and see if I enjoy it?’ I found that I did, and I looked forward to this class every day. It taught me honor, courage and commitment.”

Students such as Sandoval make their teacher proud.


A Veteran Organizer

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Pedro Martinez served in the U.S. Navy for more than 20 years, enlisting when he was 25 because he wanted to see the world. He has visited Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Singapore, Iran, Bahrain, Croatia and Austria. He did not engage in combat, but he had a dangerous job working on his ship’s boilers. At times crew members worried they might be targets — especially after the United States invaded Iraq in 2003.

Before all that, Martinez was active in the United Farm Workers’ efforts to unionize. He grew up in Delano, the heart of the movement, and picked crops. One day he saw the foreman removing pro-UFW fliers from car windshields and throwing them into the trash. Martinez took them out of the trash and placed them back on the cars, telling the foreman he could do what he wanted on his lunch hour. He was cussed out and fired. So he went to work for Cesar Chevez.

“I used to go to the fields during grape season and deliver union materials,” he says of that era. “I would go to farmworkers’ houses and talk to them about how the union would benefit them and why they needed a contract. I did a lot of campaigning.

“It was a very emotional time and a part of history.”

Welcome Back!

“Every year is fresh for me. I just love going back to school!” — Donna McCain, Cajon Valley Education Association

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Staff in the Cajon Valley Union School District dance dance danced into the 2016-17 school year, thanks to a splashy music video that put smiles on the faces of students, teachers, classified employees, school board members and administrators. Check it out: bit.ly/2tkg4iD.

The video, which went viral, shows school staff and board members preparing for the first day of school while boogying with abandon in the classroom, boardroom, print shop, fiscal services department, cafeteria and warehouse, and even on school buses and atop tables, to the beat of Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”

Produced by Fe Fi Fo Films, the video was sent to principals and teachers throughout the district near San Diego, who shared it with students at the district’s 26 schools. Some schools and teachers were inspired to create their own videos after seeing the district one, says Superintendent David Miyashiro.

“We aimed to inspire, encourage and truly welcome back our teachers and staff to a new school year,” says Miyashiro. “We were able to engage the entire district office staff, who work all through the summer to get our sites ready for the new school year, in a fun team-building event to show our teachers how much they care and support them.”

Parents, students, former students and others raved about the video.

Chris Prokop, president of the Cajon Valley Education Association (CVEA), believes the video set a positive tone for the school year.

“The kids loved it, and the community really enjoyed it,” he said. “Our district population has grown by hundreds of kids, so there’s something to be said for it being successful.”

Representing teachers in the production is Donna McCain, a seventh-grade English instructor at Hillsdale Middle School beginning her 21st year in the profession. She laughingly says she will be forever remembered as “the twirling teacher in the red dress.”

The CVEA member just happened to be working during the summer on a blended learning program when the superintendent walked in and asked if she’d like to be in the district’s back-to-school video.

“I knew how to dance and sing and twirl, so I said yes,” says McCain. “And that’s what happened in a hot classroom on a summer day. It was fun stepping out of the box and doing something I’ve never done before. Every year, as a teacher, I like to try something new.”

Whether or not El Cajon plans another back-to-school surprise this year, McCain says, the first day of school is still magical for teachers as well as students.

“I love the anticipation. I love the excitement of meeting new people, seeing new faces and trying to remember everybody’s name. Every year is fresh for me. I just love going back to school!”


 

Make a Back-to-School Night Video

Save yourself stress – not to mention your voice – by creating a few videos for Back-to-School Night. It’s a way for parents to see you’re capable, prepared and tech-savvy and opens the door to better communication as the year continues. Moira West of Animoto, a video creation service, suggests  a few ideas, using simple templates for your photos and video clips:

  • If your school has a social media presence, create and post a quick video reminding parents to attend. It will show up in their feed and get more attention than a written note.
  • Incorporate video into your Back-to-School Night presentation with an introduction, rundown of rules and class expectations for students – and parents.
  • Create a video showing parents what their children have been learning since school started. This can be photos of students working in class or their artwork, for example.
  • Afterwards, post any informational videos you showed during the event, which can serve as a virtual Back-to-School Night for parents unable to attend. Or create a video recap of the night to post online or make a video thank you note to volunteers who helped with Back-to-School Night.