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Young Kona students introduce resolution to incorporate climate change education into classroom

Updated: 
March 20, 2017 - 12:05am

KAILUA-KONA — A handful of middle school students at Innovations Public Charter School in Kona are utilizing the power of policy to take their education into their own hands, and by extension, the future of the world they will soon inherit.

Late last year, under the guidance of Rep. Nicole Lowen, Catherine Hawkins’ combination fifth- and sixth-grade class drafted and submitted House Resolution 30, which implores the state’s Board of Education (BOE) to set up guidelines for the integration of climate change education into the standard public school curriculum across the state.

The resolution is set to receive its first hearing Tuesday by the House Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection, on which Lowen serves as vice chairwoman. If it passes, it will move on to the Education Committee and after that, to a vote on the floor of the Hawaii House of Representatives.

“There’s been a lot of people who haven’t really been taking climate change seriously,” said Tosh Stratton, a fifth-grader at Innovations. “It’s our generation that’s probably going to have the most impact on it.”

Angie Metriyakool, Stratton’s mother and a long-time friend of Lowen, said she and her son pulled the initial inspiration for the idea from conversations in their home spurred by last November’s presidential election and Stratton’s introduction to government studies during the coinciding trimester.

After a little research, mother and son deciphered a legislative avenue worth pursuing — one that could provide Stratton and his classmates a project-based activity to learn while making a difference at the same time.

Stratton said he and his peers sometimes discuss outside of class the impacts of climate change they witness with their own eyes, like the massive coral bleaching events in West Hawaii over recent years.

“We found a bill that outlined that every facet of our government should be working toward climate change education, but it’s pretty ambiguous,” said Metriyakool, referencing Act 286, which was passed in 2012. “It doesn’t say that they specifically should be doing it in the (Department of Education) but it sort of alluded to that. So we talked to Nicole about drawing up a resolution to present to the BOE to follow through with this and say specifically we should try and start implementing this into our system.”

Lowen spent an afternoon with the students explaining the legislative process and helping them work out the appropriate format, language and stated goals of the resolution.

Once it was drafted, the class sent its legislation to Lowen’s office, where it was reviewed, edited and subsequently introduced. Lowen said very few changes to the initial language were made, as she wanted to “keep it as much in their words as possible.”

She added she can’t predict the fate of the students’ resolution, but that she believes in what the legislation hopes to achieve.

“The resolution is part of an act passed several years ago about climate change, with education being a component of it, but not much has happened,” said Lowen, a former educator. “There is nothing restricting teachers from already talking about climate change in class, but at same time, there are no guidelines for incorporating it into science and how that would look. This would be a message to urge (the BOE) to look in that direction.”

Hawkins, the teacher of the policy-pushing class at Innovations, said she was thrilled her students could garner such a valuable experience.

“Students will always remember going through an experiment and real life exercise such as this — even years from now,” she said. “We are hopeful that some of our young students will also aspire to become involved in local and national government one day.”

Stratton, too, is excited about the notion that even at a young age, he and his classmates can make an impact by taking control of their collective education and future — a lesson sure to carry value as they grow and begin to explore career opportunities in Hawaii and beyond.

“I think it’d be really cool (if the resolution gets passed) because like I said, my generation is going to be most affected by climate change,” he said. “We should learn how to maybe prevent it and how to be better at keeping it from happening and destroying our world.”

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