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Centering the classroom on climate resilience

Lauren Janes

Once a week, two young men take over Jessica Krueger-Koupal’s Algebra II classroom at Ypsilanti Community High School.

Their names are Logan Applebee and Keem King, and they work for the Detroit-based non-profit EcoWorks. They help teachers facilitate discussions on climate resilience, in communities that could see a disproportionate share of climate disruption. Their ultimate goal is to engage students in hands-on community building activities.

It’s part of a federally funded program to incorporate environmental lessons in classrooms that might not otherwise engage with those issues. For students who are already seeing the effects of climate change in their communities, the program aims to give students the tools and education they’ll need in the coming years, if not today. 

Credit Lauren Janes
Logan Applebee and Keem King from the Youth Energy Squad

“They really focus not on the doom and gloom but how can we be resilient,” Krueger-Koupal says, “and how can we adapt and help our community be more prepared to handle the challenges.”

Funding for the program comes from $497,658 federal grant that the Southeast Michigan Stewardship Coalition distributes. So far nine schools, many of them low-income, are benefiting from the grant. This Southeast Michigan program is one of 22 national climate change projects funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“This is a problem that is going to require the energy of youth,” said Sarah Schoedinger, a program manager for NOAA. She says the action component is critical.

“By involving them in not only studying about the problem but also thinking about how they can make their communities more resilient actually can bring a sense of hope to what can seem like a pretty hopeless situations.” 

Credit Lauren Janes
Jessica Krueger-Koupal’s Algebra II classroom

Back at Ypsilanti Community High, algebra teacher Jessica Krueger-Koupal says learning about climate resilience is especially important in schools with high poverty.

“For students to be able to see that they can make an impact and make some changes in high school I think prepares them for outside of high school being advocates for their community and making change. Which I think is a super important thing for students in high poverty situations to believe about themselves.”

As part of the program, students identify issues related to climate disruption, and come up with solutions on their own. At the end of the school year, students create a community-based project to help fix a problem caused by climate change. Last year projects included a rain garden and plant buffer strips, which help remove carbon from the atmosphere.

This year, students in Ypsilanti will partner with Ypsilanti City Council and the Ypsilanti Sustainability Commission. Organizers say they hope those partnerships will lead to sustainability and climate action plans in that community. 

Credit Lauren Janes
Christian Green in class

On a recent morning, students gathered in a circle with the EcoWorks facilitators and talked about resources: who gets them, and what you should do if you have them. Senior Christian Green raised his hand for almost every question. Green said the program has helped him to “focus on the community and what’s going on around us in a fun way but also an educational way. To conserve. Try to do better for each other.”

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