A Vigo County youth-led group called “EARTHlings” hopes to raise awareness of the urgency of climate change and also persuade the school district to take the lead in providing climate change education.
EARTHlings, which started about six months ago, stands for Environmental Activists for a Resilient Terre Haute.
Since January, the group has gathered outside the Vigo County School Corp administration building. on Fridays as part of #FridaysforFuture, with students carrying signs and working to raise awareness.
FridaysforFuture is an international movement that began in August 2018 after 15-year-old Greta Thunberg and other young Swedish activists sat outside the Swedish parliament every school day for three weeks to protest inaction against the climate crisis.
EARTHlings member Leif Speer believes that climate change is one of the biggest issues facing the world.
“Our future is being ruined right now and some people will sit back and let that happen,” said Speer, a fourth grader at Dixie Bee Elementary. “I kind of feel like I have to catch up with all the people who aren’t taking action.”
Another member, Ayush Bhattacharyya, a sixth-grade student at Honey Creek Middle School, said climate change “is a big, big problem.” He became an environmental activist because “I want to improve the future for myself and for when I have children”.
On January 8, five VCSC students, also members of EARTHling, addressed the school board during a working session. The group is asking the board to pass a resolution acknowledging that climate change “is a crisis that needs to be addressed now,” and they also want the board to “resolve to include climate change education in all the schools in the county of Vigo”.
He wants the district to incorporate climate change education into the K-12 curriculum.
“Man-made climate change is an existential threat to our future,” Bhattacharyya told the school board. “As young people, we will have to live with the increasingly serious consequences of our parents’ and grandparents’ refusal to treat the climate emergency as an emergency.”
Students need to be informed about the issue and “how it will affect almost every area of our lives,” he said.
Indiana received a “D” grade from the National Center for Science Education, which rates states on education standards for climate change education.
In January, the Indiana Department of Education announced a new climate change education framework in partnership with Purdue University. The framework, which is optional, offers educational resources for educators to include climate change information in their curriculum.
After the EARTHlings were presented to the school board, Superintendent Rob Haworth invited the group to meet with him later in the week to discuss their ideas. The students who presented were Bhattacharyya and his brother Ahan; Diarmuid Corcoran, Elias Hellmann and Leif Speer.
Board Chair Jackie Lower told the students, “I appreciate your enthusiasm…this is the start of a conversation. She also suggested they approach local lawmakers.
The group is sponsored and supported by Earth Charter Indiana. EARTHlings members include elementary, middle and high school students and parents, including Jim Speer, professor of earth and environmental systems at Indiana State University, and Shikha Bhattacharyya, founder of reTHink, a group that encourages environmentally friendly practices. UIS students also participated.
Bill Riley, director of communications for the VCSC, praised the students’ efforts. “What a great thing to see five of our students pitch their ideas at a board meeting… They want to take control of their education and talk about things they are passionate about.
After the district received the climate framework from the IDOE, it sent the information to teachers along with updated “pace” guides on how and where to use these resources, he said. This information was sent last week.
Climate change is addressed in state standards in two areas — science and social studies, Riley said. He noted that science textbooks should be adopted in two years.
“We continue to listen [EARTHlings] and talk with them,” Riley said. “We agree this is an important issue.”
In addition to the curriculum, EARTHlings provided several other ideas to the district on ways to educate students about climate change, including:
• Include climate/environmental issues in morning announcements. “We have to hear about it every day,” the group says.
• Create visual messages, such as on outdoor signs.
• Show the videos at times that do not disturb the class.
• Include information on the VCSC website.
Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or [email protected] Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.