The nation’s environmental movement has long been associated with middle- and upper-class Americans who have the economic agency and political sway to combat issues such as global warming. Temple organization Philly Eco Kids strives to educate low-income citizens and young people, two demographics that are often viewed as powerless in the environmental campaign, about the subject.
In early 2007, junior anthropology major Gaja Stirbys and senior health information management major Trisha Mandes won a $500 grant from the National Wildlife Federation for their video, which featured the two women educating sixth-grade students from the Independence Charter School about global warming.
“We wanted to empower students in the North Philadelphia public school system to learn about the environment, rethink the way they live, and make smart choices,” Stirbys said. “Their teachers are working very hard but don’t have the resources to teach environmental science, so we are there as a supplement.”
With their modest funding, Stirbys and Mandes recruited members from the Students for Environmental Action and crafted a two-hour program that teaches North Philadelphia pupils about global warming, weather patterns, drinking water, renewable energy, coral reefs and other topics.
The lesson plan begins with a 15-minute PowerPoint presentation, during which the PEK members actively engage the students with questions about the slides. The coordinators then separate the class into seven groups that each represent a different consequence of global warming, and the students write and perform skits that are intended to educate their peers about the assigned issues.
“The kids are really creative and articulate, and often create scripts that mimic Judge Judy. One group did a courtroom skit that pitted trees against people,” Stirbys said. “They understood these multifaceted issues enough to acknowledge that the preservation of trees is important, but that people still need to use them for energy.”
To conclude the lesson, students can draw a picture or write a letter to President George W. Bush explaining why the environment is important to their lives. The children are rarely short of words for President Bush.
“It’s surprising how many kids have negative views of the president,” Mandes said. “One of them wrote, ‘I don’t like you, but if you started planting trees I would.’ Another wrote that he belongs in jail.”
Since 2007, PEK has taught at Independence Charter School, Elverson Military Academy, Duckery Elementary School and Walter D. Palmer School. They plan on visiting another school in the next two weeks, and are looking to implement sustainable environmental technology into the schools’ programs in the future.
“We want to educate these young people so that they can make wise environmental decisions,” Mandes said. “Your carbon footprint is the legacy that you leave on the planet.”
Holly Otterbein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.