The Nov. 2 meeting of Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s Board (SMMUSD) of Education saw a lengthy discussion on the future of climate literacy education throughout the district.
At the meeting, the board approved a Climate Literacy Resolution provided by the students of Santa Monica High School’s Team Marine, an environmental activism group dedicated to “rising up against the climate crisis.” The resolution asks for the district to support “age-appropriate discussions” about climate topics in elementary schools, along with enhancing curricula in secondary schools to “go more in-depth on climate issues, where applicable or advantageous, particularly across content areas and beyond science classrooms.”
Presented to the board by members of Team Marine, the resolution directs staff to “facilitate effective integration of climate-related topics across disciplines,” with an ask to commit at least one lesson per semester on a climate topic through either a social, economic, political or science lens. District teachers are to be granted discretion over lessons, and are “encouraged to provide real-world, hands-on learning opportunities” in such forms as classroom discussions, guest speakers, age-appropriate environmental films and various research projects.
Team Marine co-captain and Samohi senior Maya Williams noted that climate topics are of utmost importance to many SMMUSD students due to its wide-ranging repercussions. The SMMUSD board previously approved a district sustainability plan in March of 2019 that stated the district “has a responsibility to prioritize climate literacy and sustainability for all of its students to be prepared to tackle climate change.”
“The climate crisis has already had a devastating impact on our environment and our communities, consequences ranging from loss in biodiversity and extreme weather events, to increased risk of physical and mental illness,” Williams said to the board.
The resolution was approved unanimously with the exception of an abstention from board member Jon Kean, who cited a lack of adequate time to prepare questions and comments, but nonetheless appreciated the work of Team Marine. In the short-term future, faculty and staff will collaborate with students to measure and report on the success of curricula integration, reporting back to the board on a yearly basis.
“When we were writing this resolution, we wanted to make sure we incorporated a way to keep us all accountable, because I know a lot of times when certain bodies adopt resolutions, sometimes we lose track,” Williams stated.
To properly develop staff in crafting curriculum ideas, Team Marine suggested that one already-planned meeting per semester would be appropriate to educate teachers on climate literacy, and provided several samples of lesson resources available to SMMUSD. On top of keeping the board accountable, Williams noted that Team Marine wants “to make sure that this is really a priority for all of [the district’s] teachers” because “students really want climate literacy.”
Prior to the board presentation, the resolution was endorsed by such groups as the Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association and the SMMUSD Teaching and Learning Council. After hearing the passion from Team Marine, board members were also quick to commend the group.
“The students with Team Marine have been so consequential and successful and effective at impacting board policy on questions of the environment … I hope you’ll say to those that are behind you that we see the good work … it really is rare,” said board member Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein.
SMMUSD Superintendent Dr. Antonio Shelton concurred with the credit to the student-led organization, stating that Team Marine was able to take “a collaborative approach” to the climate literacy topic, integrating thoughts from district leadership.
“Our schools are doing quite a bit of this already, which is a key part of this,” Shelton said. “Informing, providing information, allowing kids to draw from that information that is being shared … thank you so much for following the guidance that we provided.”
Directly tied to the resolution was a discussion about the adoption of board policy regarding environmental education. The policy, which is set to be voted on at the board’s next meeting, would focus on promoting environmental literacy among students, teachers and staff through integration into existing curricula. Overseeing implementation of said policy would be an Environmental Education Working Group consisting of STEM Coordinator Rosa Serratore, Life and Environmental Sciences Instructor Benjamin Kay, Samohi Librarian Dana Bart-Bell, Grant Elementary School Principal Christian Fuhrer, Sustainability Manager Austin Toyama and the students of Team Marine.
Another item during the board meeting related to environmental sustainability was the bestowment of the Golden Sneaker Award to Grant Elementary School. The award was given to the school for having the highest daily student participation percentage during the annual Bike It, Walk It, Bus It week held in October. Grant’s participation percentage of 86.98% narrowly edged out Franklin Elementary School, which had a participation rate of 86.89%. In total, over 2,500 students took part in the week, something Grant principal Fuhrer beamed with pride over.
“I’m so proud of our school community for demonstrating their commitment to long term sustainability … I’m happy to see such enthusiasm for this event by our sister schools across the district, and I’m proud of their commitment as well,” Fuhrer said to the board. “One of the most important concepts we can teach our students is that there are many ways they can keep their planet clean, healthy and functioning.”