Teaching Resilience in the Face of Climate Change


Damariya Carlisle, age 9, jumped as an instructor hauled a crab pot onto the steel deck of the barge docked on the Elizabeth River, a Chesapeake tributary in Norfolk, Va.

She marveled at the Atlantic blue crabs’ claws but worried they might pinch her. The visit was part of a fourth-grade class trip in October.

“They get to see and feel real crabs,” said Janet Goldbach Ehmer, an educator with the Elizabeth River Project who pulled the trap from the water. “It helps to create a personal connection and investment in the river.”

The programs provide education and projects include building rain barrels, planting trees, hosting resiliency expos, collecting environmental data and interviewing community members about extreme weather events. The approach is intended to help stave off the paralysis or anxiety that may occur when confronted with climate data that may feel overwhelming or distressing.

“There is a mental health component to it,” Ms. Schoedinger said. “It’s about introducing the vulnerability and threat in age-appropriate ways and then focusing on solutions.”

Robin Dunbar, Elizabeth River’s deputy director of education, said, “Our whole message has not been scary” all “gloom and doom.” Though she added, “I’m not trying to just push cupcakes and unicorns. We do include real science for all ages.”

Several of the programs aim to empower students to take part in community resiliency planning.

“Sometimes, when talking about big environmental issues,” Ms. Dunbar said, “there’s this idea: We need the adults to figure this out. I always come in and say: ‘Let the kids have a part in this.’”

Over the summer, middle-school boys in a hazard resiliency program in Gunnison, Colo., that caters to rural schools hashed out how to protect their small town at the base of the Rocky Mountains from an approaching wildfire as part of a board game that incorporates hazard survival strategies.

“The foothills closest to your community have been burning for several days and your community has been blanketed with smoke,” read one of the game’s emergency updates.

The coalition is a partner in a program called Climate Resilience From the Youth Up, which brings together high school students, educators, scientists and community members in Detroit and southeast Michigan.

Another partner, EcoWorks, a nonprofit in Detroit that focuses on sustainability, supported science students at Communications and Media Arts High School in hosting a climate change forum in May.

This fall, the students surveyed how homes near their school would hold up in extreme weather, assessing the homes’ foundations and roofs, including the placement of gutters.

They showed residents how to better prepare for extreme weather by insulating their homes and cleaning their gutters. Eventually, they hope to secure funding and materials to help owners make their homes more durable, said De’Angelo Sanders, a 15-year-old sophomore.

“I really like this type of experiment, because I get to interact with my environment. It’s pretty cool, you know?” De’Angelo said. “Someone has to step up.”

She admired the long strip of desert willows, grasses and flowering plants that have flourished since the garden was built in 2018. Her class continues to make improvements to and monitor the garden, which soaks up an estimated 15,000 gallons of rainwater a year.

“When I first came to the school, it was dead dirt,” said Riley, an eighth grader. “Nature can really be beautiful and not only look that way, but it also helps the world.”

“If you make these connections and inspire people that a rain barrel is resilience, it really changes the way the people see their own yard, their own trash can. It changes the way they see the world around them and how it all connects back to climate change,” he said. “That’s when people really start to feel empowered.”

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