The Beyond Grades Podcast Episode 5: How the Next Generation is Learning 


New Jersey gets an A+ in climate change education 

With worsening global warming and warnings from scientists of a trajectory for permanent damage to our planet, concern and calls for action grow louder every day. While many individuals and the government have failed to take serious steps, there are states like New Jersey which have taken matters into their own hands… to be specific in one case it is the small hands of elementary students which have been getting a bit dirty literally… as the school has become down to earth to help save the earth.

At one New Jersey school, Stillwater Township Elementary School, students often spend part of their day in the school’s outdoor garden, which has a greenhouse and outdoor classroom. If you are a kindergartener, you learn about monarch butterflies and observe them in the garden. if you’re a second grader you learn about the life cycle of a seed with lettuce, parsley, and spinach grown yourself.

Two years ago New Jersey was the first state to adopt learning standards that required all schools to teach about climate change across all grades and subjects. These standards went into effect this past fall, and schools like Stillwater Township have embraced it. 

The standards require climate change to be taught in health and physical education, career readiness and life literacies, computer science and design thinking, science, social studies, visual and performing arts, and world languages.

In the past, a comprehensive climate change curriculum has not been taught in U.S. schools. This was a lot of the time because of the political divide on the matter and a limited understanding of the issue.

In 2013, new national science standards, had teachers begin talking about climate change in middle school, but it wasn’t too in-depth. A decade since, only 20 states have adopted even these standards, but luckily we can thank political leaders and advocates like Tammy Murphy, the wife of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D). She is a founding member of former vice president Al Gore’s Climate Reality Action Fund, which pushed to get the standards into schools. 

In a statement to the Washington Post Murphy said, “There’s no way we can expect our children to have the solutions and the innovations to these challenges if we’re not giving them the tools and resources needed here and now,”.  

Though it may be scary to think about how these youngins will grow into the leaders of the future, makes me think they will be just fine.

Minnesota fifth-graders gave recess an inclusive makeover

Do you remember recess? If you’re still a student, maybe you are remembering yesterday, but if you’re like me the memory is a bit less clear. What I do remember though is lots of endorphins, lots of running, monkey bars, and that game on the pavement with a ball and chalk… I think it’s called foursquare. I remember I used to run really fast to access the field to impress this boy I had a crush on. I know very cringe. But anyway the point is, I remember being able to make the most out of those 25 minutes on the playground. I never thought about those who didn’t have the privilege of experiencing it the same way I did. 

But recently at a school in Hopkins, Minnesota, some students did think about this. Glen Lake elementary school has many students with disabilities. But up until lately, they had no place for these students to play. This was a fact that no one seemed to notice until Betsy Julien’s fifth-grade class. They noticed and they were bothered. 

The kids noted how it was sad to see their peers left out when everyone else has fun. It’s not surprising, given how kids are, that the students seemed confused about why they shouldn’t do something about this. To kids, obstacles aren’t relevant. In cases like this, it makes me think we should all be a little more like them.

The students went to Betsy and asked if they could all do something to change the issue. According to Betsy, she had been like “do you know how much this costs?” She estimated probably around $300,000.

No amount of money would deter this class though. And Betsy was not going to shut down her students’ resiliency. They began the classic way. They began collecting spare change, hosting bake sales, printing flyers, and going door to door. Then they began cold-calling businesses and got restaurants to donate a portion of their profits. They did this for months… until last week, when they finally hit their goal, with support from the Glen Lake Parent Teacher Organization. 

According to the kids, it was overwhelming to know that their hard work finally led to a more inclusive playground and the kids with disabilities expressed their appreciation purely for the effort that went into the project. 

John Buettner, one student in a wheelchair, told CBS, “First time I set foot on this playground I’m probably going to start crying from seeing the effort that all the school has made,” 

Having seen the difference their hard work made in the lives of Buettner and his peers, the class is now working on raising more money to transform more playgrounds.

To hear about more good news happening in education like those above, tune into the Beyond Grades Podcast every other Wednesday on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts

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