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University Hosts First Annual Sustainability Week

Sustainability WeekThe first annual Sustainability Education Week, a weeklong series of events held by the School of Education, kicked off with “Issues & Trends in Environmental Sustainability” on Monday Feb. 15. 

The conference committee consists of Jiwon Kim, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Social Studies and Foundations of Education, Carol McArthur-Amedeo, Ed.D. Lecturer and Special Education Program Director, Michelle Schpakow, Ed.D. Science Education Lecturer and KC Lubniewski, Ed.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Special Education.

Over 200 people registered for the conference, according to Lubniewski. Attendees included University students, faculty, community members, K-12 students, administrators, in-service teachers, and other individuals interested in learning more about sustainability.

Keynote speakers included John Morano, Professor of Journalism and author of the Eco-Adventure Series, as well as Missy Holzer, Ph.D., a former science teacher and current science standards specialist with Great Minds PBC.

Finding keynote speakers was a team effort, Lubniewski wrote in a statement to The Outlook. “The committee reached out to the School of Education faculty and asked for recommendations of speakers, and we also announced the event to the campus community and faculty across campus reached out with their willingness to help.”

John Henning, Ph.D., Dean of the School of Education, presented an introduction to the weeklong event series before transitioning to the event’s guest speaker portion. 

“I think [sustainability] is so important because this issue is here now,” Henning said. “It has been a long time concern, but last year’s fires in California seem to promise continuing, on-going consequences from the effects of climate and other environmental changes. As we learn more about how the environment is changed in ways that make such disasters more likely, and as we watch the suffering of our neighbor’s in California, we cannot help but wonder what the future has in store for us.” 

From one perspective, sustainability is a matter of science, Henning explained. Understanding how to sustain clean air, clean water and an abundant supply of healthy food is crucial to managing the environment. 

“Science can teach us how to do that, but perhaps, even more importantly, sustainability is a problem with people,” Henning said. “Developing the will to act collectively requires transforming thinking, changing minds and persuading others of the actions we must take. We must grow in our understanding enough to appreciate the link between our behaviors and the quality of life available to us. This will require a significant change in our cultural values. Those values must be articulated, accepted and lived by. But it will not be enough to transform ourselves individually, we must grow deep enough in our understanding to become advocates for a more sustainable world.” 

Morano began acknowledging sustainability as a child, fishing and crabbing in East Rockaway with an old unclaimed boat his father rebuilt. He anchored himself near a part of the bay where golfers often hit their shots into the water, pulling out and repurposing the lost balls for sale.

After an extensive and accomplished journalism career, Morano began writing novels based on extinction and habitat depletion. Maintaining areas of the world removed from human intervention is key to improving sustainability, he explained.

“A way to increase sustainability across-the-board is to walk more softly,” Morano said. “Less is more, too much is not enough. Reuse, repurpose, and consume less. Think globally and act locally. Many of these things sound like cliches, but they make a difference. Once you start doing it, it becomes a habit and then it’s effortless. Every time we make a purchase, we ask the planet to provide something. We take something from this world. If we could ask a little less, all of us, that can make a measurable difference.” 

Holzer addressed climate science and climate change standards across the New Jersey educational curriculum. Although standards have not seen many recent changes, there is change in the approach towards thinking about climate change.

“I always stress, as a classroom educator, this notion of using evidence,” Holzer said. “Everything has to be evidence based. When we’re talking in the classroom about climate change, we want to be evidence based and let the numbers speak for themselves.”

New Jersey learning standards in science are descriptive, including climate change education for each grade, Holzer explained. In those descriptions, embedded classroom implementation suggestions provide teachers with pathways on how to integrate climate change into science instruction.

In regards to math based curriculums, teachers are adept at identifying relevant practical applications for their subject, climate change offering substantial data that can be crunched to reveal stories of local, regional and global climate change, Holzer said.

“[Teachers] can use various change-over-time data available from the office of the New Jersey state climatologist,” Holzer said. “They can develop models using the data to predict future changes and connect with their science colleagues on mathematical applications associated with science investigations. All levels of probability and statistics serve as perfect entry points for students to wrestle with climate science and climate change data.”

The best way for educators to make a difference in the classroom is to be genuine, Morano explained during his speech.

 “Model the behavior you would like to see in your students, but avoid being the sustainability police,” Morano said. “Don’t embarrass them. Make it nice for them to do the right thing and they’ll do more of it.”

Leading a more sustainable life takes one step at a time, Morano said. It is a culmination of small changes in behavior that eventually lead to large amounts of covered ground.

“It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish that matters,” Morano said. “Gently nudging students in the direction of sustainability as a part of their lives is a wonderful achievement. If you want them to be sensitive to the impacts their choices might make, you [as their teacher] do that and they will follow. Students can spot a phony a mile away, but they will embrace those who walk the walk.”

It is important to host events related to sustainability to raise awareness around the issue and provide resources and connections to teachers, school leaders, students, and community members in attendance, Schpakow said. “Sustainability transcends grade levels and subject areas; it is not just a ‘social studies theme’ or ‘science topic’ that should be taught in isolation. Its effects are profound and global in scale, so we need to encourage the widespread adoption of sustainability practices and curriculum to truly prepare our students for the future.”

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