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.

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