As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon walked into Conference Room 6 of the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, the room reverberated with applause. With all the dignity and graciousness you’d expect from one of the most diplomatic people in the world, he acknowledged us with a grateful smile and thanked us for coming. My forty-six science students and I could barely contain our excitement! This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience! And my fifth graders knew why they were there – to inspire one of the world’s most powerful people to continue to work toward slowing down climate change, and to see what they could do to help.
As he walked to the back of the small room to shake the hands of teachers and chaperones, I was filled with gratitude for NOAA Climate Stewards, and the path they started me on four years ago. Having taught environmental studies for years, I had recently become increasingly concerned about the impact of climate change, and what that would mean for my students’ future. Will they have to deal with the increasing dangers of violent storms? Will some of their families have to move because of increased flooding in our area? How will the habitats of all living things change within the lifetime of these 11-year-olds?
As a teacher, I always have one eye on the future. Climate Stewards has shown me ways that I can help my young charges prepare themselves for their future, beyond reading, writing, and arithmetic. By giving me background knowledge, and good sources for further learning, I’ve grown in confidence to teach climate science. By giving me teaching strategies, and networking opportunities, Climate Stewards has allowed me to get the science information into the classroom in a way that’s accessible and engaging for my students. As a result, my students feel empowered to take action. Not only do they learn to recycle and reduce their electricity use; they also come to realize that they have a very powerful weapon against climate change. My students call it “Kid Power”. I call it gabbing. They LOVE to talk! Might as well put that to good use! As my student, Brian, told Secretary-General, kids can talk to others who might not understand the seriousness of climate change, or who may even deny that Earth is warming.
My students had written Secretary-General, asking to meet with him to discuss climate change. Having seen the gavel come down on the Paris Climate Agreement on YouTube, while studying the causes and effects of climate change during Earth’s Systems lessons, they decided to write the Secretary-General to congratulate him, and to ask that he not forget the children. “We would like to hear your ideas about what else we can do. The more knowledge we have, the more we can do. We will pass the information along to other kids. We think more kids should be involved in helping to slow down climate change,” they wrote. Now they were meeting with Secretary-General, and Mr. Selwin Hart, director of the Secretary-General’s Climate Change Support Team!
Secretary-General thanked them for their letter and told them he found it quite inspiring, and that he would keep it to read whenever he felt discouraged. He emphasized the importance of slowing down climate change as quickly as possible, as it’s already beginning to destabilize parts of the world. There are already cases where people are forced to migrate from their homeland due to drought, flooding, or because their land is falling into the ocean. My students told him their ideas about what kids can do to help: recycling, turning off lights and electronics when not in use, riding the school bus rather than taking individual cars, re-using bags and plastic bottles rather than using disposables, etc. They assured him they were working to reduce their carbon footprint.
Secretary-General said he was encouraged by the children’s knowledge and commitment. He has three young grandchildren and wants them to have a good future. He told my students that now that he had heard from them, he would work even harder to get countries to agree to take action to reduce air pollution. He asked them to keep doing their part as well.
Back in the classroom the next day, my science classes talked nonstop (Of course!). This time, the conversations were about their experience meeting a powerful adult, and their commitment to continue to work with him to slow down climate change. All the students agreed with their classmate, Julia. "I’m inspired that someone so important would want to talk to a group of kids. I’m glad he understands that this is our future we’re talking about. It’s really important to us!"
Kottie Christie-Blick is a teacher at Cottage Lane Elementary School in the South Orangetown Central School District, in Blauvelt, New York. She's also an educational consultant. Kottie has published articles in several educational journals, and has presented at educational conferences across the United States and in several other countries. She's a NOAA Climate Stewards Educator and a Distinguished Fulbright Teacher.