Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Children's House: A nine-week immersion in climate change

Way back in the early '90s I taught Language Arts at a Montessori-based, one-room-schoolhouse kind of place, The Children's House. My step daughter Clare had already been attending The Children's House when the Language Arts position opened up, and school director Louise Brannon decided I had the right mixture of characteristics to step up and into the position.

I was not so convinced. At that point in my life, all I really knew how to do was paint houses and write weird stories. I had no training in teaching, no confidence that I could pull off something like that.

Louise saw something in me that I did not see myself, and I will always be grateful. The next four years were a stupendous experience for me, teaching kids, K-8, the wonders of Language Arts. I became a lot more adept at working with young people, and that training set the stage for this current period of my life, where I am often in schools working with students.

One school I spent a lot of time in this fall is, in fact, The Children's House. What goes around comes around. In September, The Children's House teachers asked me to consider leading a nine-week intensive with the students, and it didn't take much deliberation to say yes. And so this semester I've been involved in a school-wide, cross curriculum immersion in climate change and sustainability solutions.

I've visited about once week, doing various presentations, including one that teaches the science of climate change via bumper stickers. Visitors have come to the school to demonstrate gardening techniques; we've had Butler students visit as well, observing the curriculum and interacting with students and teachers.

Now that we're at the end of the journey, it's time to reflect. It's been incredible, full of field trip adventures and school-based fun. And I only know a portion of the curriculum, as The Children's House teachers — Tristan Gilkey, Abee Louden, Jenny Ollikainen and Mary Sexson — have been doing lots of instruction about climate change.

Earth Charter Indiana's program Sustainable Indiana 2016 also jumped into the fun. Here, correspondent Dick Clough interviews six year old student Adelaide about her diagram to help the planet.

This whole experience has felt like coming home: Abee is a former student of mine, and Mary is the person who took my position when I left in 1994. So it has a small, intimate feel, an interesting platform when you consider that the subject of climate change is so vast — and can be perceived as impersonal. We tried to make it personal, to connects the proverbial dots of climate change, food systems, weather extremes and health impacts.

I don't know how I did. We'll have to see what youth action and leadership emerges. I'm simply grateful for having been invited into a very special space, a school where project-based learning is the default, and children are encouraged to explore their passion.

Here's a parade of images that address a portion of our time together.

One day, we visited Butler's farm at their Center for Urban Ecology. Students toured large urban farm.

What's a climate change intensive without bikes? Nothing! We toured the shop and warehouse of Freewheelin' Bikes.

The students didn't like the smell, but Ivy Tech Culinary Arts' machine that turns food waste into compostable materials is state-of-the-art and an ambitious means of keeping methane out of the atmosphere.

The rain barrel system outside Ivy Tech; at-the-ready to water the adjacent garden.

Eskenazi Skyfarm farmer Rachel White talks to the students about the farm atop Eskenazi Hospital.

At White Pine Wilderness Academy, checking out the brand new sweatlodge.
Greater Good Gardens' Chris Cruzan displays the basil starts he's going to leave behind at The Children's House.

Basil starts in place; Chris talked with students about hydroponic gardening and also aeroponic gardening. Below this lid is a five gallon plastic bucket complete with an aeroponic system that Chris gave to the school.
Those familiar with my blog know I take plastic food into schools so students can learn about the connection between food choices and water and carbon footprints. It's also a lot of fun.
At White Pine Wilderness Academy, the students can feel the heat from the coals via the previous night's fire.

Turning last night's coals into today's fire, perhaps a metaphor for youth leadership and climate stewardship.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

You had our back: A report on the Environmental Rules Board hearing

After the meeting: A portion of the supporters pose for a photo.

By all rights I should be disappointed. Maybe even devastated. But for some reason I am not.

Yesterday, the Environmental Rules Board refused again to grant us a public hearing for a climate action plan for Indiana.

After a much-needed good night’s sleep, I awoke undaunted.

Maybe I’m feeling upbeat because of the crazy way the day unfolded.

A few of us arrived for the beginning of the meeting at Government Center South, downtown Indy. We weren’t on the agenda for this hearing, and were planning on speaking during the “Open Forum” portion. Given numerous past experiences — and the volume of work the ERB has to accomplish at these meetings — we figured we wouldn’t take the proverbial stage until 3:30 at the earliest.

That’s why we told our supporters, including a couple dozen middle school students, to arrive around three. We didn’t want people to arrive at 1:30 and sit around for two hours, missing work or school.

Here’s the problem, though. The ERB was galloping thru their agenda, to the point where it looked like the Open Forum was going to begin at 2:30, WAY earlier than expected.

At 2:30, not even half our scheduled speakers had even yet arrived.

A flurry of texts

The next hour would prove to be one of the most adrenaline filled hours in recent memory. While Earth Charter Indiana members and supporters stationed inside the hearing room were furiously texting me updates, I was stationed at the public entrance, quickly escorting arriving supporters to the appropriate location.

Most on my mind was identifying speakers as they walked in — the first to arrive were Charlie and Jean from Columbus. Thank goodness! I told Charlie that while I had assumed there would not be time for him speak, given our planned slate of five speakers, I now NEEDED him to speak, to stall for time for three others who had not yet arrived.

One of those three soon walked in: Denise Abdul-Rahman, climate justice chair for the NAACP. She launched into a trot when she saw me jumping up into the air.

Meanwhile, texts were flying at me from at least three people in the hearing room exhibiting anxiety about the lack of speakers.

I walked/jogged Denise to the back doors of the hearing room. As she walked into the room, she literally heard her name called to speak.

It was like a movie where everything happens in the nick of time!

Sure enough, when I returned to the public entrance — it was nearing 3 p.m. by now — the middle schoolers had finally arrived, lining up. Project Libertas students were coming to witness the proceedings to study civic engagement.

I had been telling numerous schools about this opportunity to engage in civics, and how the Environmental Rules Board is a place where they can be heard, and this independent school seized the teaching moment.

One Project Libertas student, 8th grader Maddie, was one of the two speakers we were most anxious to hear. The other, Cora, also an eighth grader, from Eastwood Middle School, arrived with the Project Libertas caravan. (See below for their testimonies.)

The middle schoolers were moving like tai chi masters through security check, as one of our supporters, Julie Rhodes, arrived from the hearing room to announce they were closing the Open Forum.

Like heck! Maddie and Cora, come to the front of the line!

There was still time.

No wait! Cora set off the security alarm and had to be swiped with a wand.

At last, I ran with the two eighth graders to the room where they immediately went to the front to speak.

The jig is up

For me, I had missed the entire show thus far: Rosemary, Bill, Charlie, Jean and Denise, all with prepared testimonies, giving mostly legal perspectives on why the ERB has the authority to grant a hearing so that our concerns about climate change can be expressed. Imploring the ERB to take action on behalf of the younger generation. Desiring the implementation of a Climate Action Plan for Indiana.

But I was not going to miss this, the younger generation having their say.  

Before you read their testimonies, below, I want you to know a few things. One, the ERB said no. Two, one ERB member, Tom Anderson, made the motion for the public hearing. Three, there was no second to the motion and so it died. Four, the ERB stated once again they thought the General Assembly was the appropriate way to go. Five, afterwards, a couple of ERB members said they would try and be helpful in finding legislators willing to craft to bill regarding a climate action plan. 

Six, as the kids spoke and the ERB processed our testimonies, supporters continued to arrive. It was just after 3 o’clock at that point, still earlier than I thought we would begin.

I think that’s why I am not discouraged.

You had our back.

Whether you showed up, or contacted me that you couldn’t show up, you, like me, know the jig is up. The climate crisis is upon us, and our political system — our leaders — are ill-equipped to move quickly enough to meet its challenges.

Right at the time when we need leaders and clarity the most, we are mired in bureaucracy, propaganda and confusion.

Punting the can down the road and over the precipice.

Yet yesterday, at the hearing, everything came together at the last moment.

I know that’s what we’re all dreaming of, because the predominant Western narrative traces that trajectory; darkest before the dawn, help arrives when all seems lost.

Folks, the climax is coming, and the heroes and heroines — ALL of us, including members of the ERB — are battling and worrying and working hard and waking up in the middle of the night saying I am not doing enough.

It’s hard, and what’s especially hard is to keep fighting.

I’m telling you, if you ever waver, then listen. Listen to the youth.

Here’s what the youth had to say that day.

My name is Maddie Brooks and I am an eighth grader at Project Libertas.

This past summer I was taught to use my voice. To stand up. To make myself be heard. But in order to be heard, you need an audience willing to listen. That’s your role today.

Climate Change has been demanding to be noticed lately. And a lot of people have chosen to ignore or deny that fact.

Not us. We have noticed.

We’ve noticed the temperature rising.

We’ve noticed the ice melting.

We’ve noticed the extreme weather conditions.

Some people may have excuses or say we’re imagining all of these situations, but being doubted on facts – it wears me out. Let alone all of these guys.

On behalf of the youth, I ask you to take the necessary and responsible steps, as our state’s leaders, to grant us a hearing regarding a Climate Action Plan, to ensure my future is guaranteed.

Citizens of Indiana are counting on you. Each and every one of you have the chance to make a difference. So, ask yourselves, “Why not take it?”

My and future generations are depending on the decision you make. Our futures – they’re in your hands. It’s up to you if they are good ones or not.

And now here is Cora:

Hello. My name is Cora Gordon. I am an eighth grade student at Eastwood Middle School. First off, I would just like to say thanks for giving me time to share my opinion and for listening to me. I am here to express the fact that we — as in Indiana — need a Climate Action Plan.

Climate change is a real, hard-hitting challenge that we MUST face. It is not something that can just solve itself.

Now, I know some of you probably think that nothing major will happen until you are dead and gone, but what about my future? I want to grow up and I want to get a job, but the way things are going now, my full time job will be surviving.

And what about generations younger than me? Will they even know what life was like when people didn’t have to scramble around like animals for food?

In all honesty, I am terrified. I am terrified for my future and also for Indiana. So, think to yourself, do you really want all your hard work for this country to be all for nothing? Do you want your kids, nieces, nephews and grandchildren to have to give all they have just to survive?

Or will you have a plan? Will you have a plan that could save hundreds of thousands of lives and futures? Because I need that plan. And so do all the generations younger than mine.