New law could shape how climate change is taught in New York schools
By Chloe Bennett
Several educators from the North Country are supporting a bill to expand climate education in New York classrooms.
Introduced by Sen. Andrew Gounardes, D-Brooklyn, and Assembly member JoAnne Simon, D-Brooklyn, the new legislation would direct teachers to prepare and instruct science, adaptation and career-focused lessons on climate change. Although students receive some climate education in public schools, many environmentalists and teachers say the instruction doesn’t measure up to the severity of the global issue.
Joe Henderson, a Paul Smith’s professor who serves on the Saranac Lake Board of Education, signed a letter of support for the legislation. Other Adirondack Park educators including Curt Stager, climate scientist and professor at Paul Smith’s College, Jen Kretser, director of climate initiatives for the Wild Center, and Saranac Lake High School teacher Kelsey Francis also signed on.
The bill would expand classroom climate education to include concepts other than science and integrate them into several subjects. English, social studies, health and mathematics could incorporate the topic, the bill states.
Climate education is a tool for solutions, the United Nations says, that can motivate young people and boost optimism for mitigation. Other states in recent years have expanded climate education in public schools to address the issue. In 2020, New Jersey became the first state to require climate education across most subjects.
Emily Fano, senior manager of climate resilience education with the National Wildlife Federation, is leading support of the climate legislation with the Climate and Resilience Education Task Force, made up of several environment and education organizations.
“Our kids are telling us that they’re desperate for this education and they really deserve it,” Fano said. “They deserve to be informed about what’s happening around them.”
“They see it all around them,” she added. “They’re living through it.”
New York climate education bills have circulated in the past without success. Henderson said without a holistic approach to the topic, like the kind the new bill lays out, students lose critical information and themes surrounding climate change.
“Young people are correctly massively concerned about this,” he said. “It’s going to be one of the dominant forces that is shaping their lives and their future.”
The bill, which has a version in both the Senate and Assembly, is currently in its respective committees. Assemblyman Matt Simpson, R-Horicon, said he plans to look over the bill following an inquiry.
At top: Adirondack Youth Climate Summit participants hold an ”I Am Pro Snow” rally at Mount Van Hoevenberg in 2016. Explorer file photo by Mike Lynch