Berkeley High students called on district leaders Thursday to take additional steps to combat climate change — presenting them with a suite of concrete ideas to consider.
The climate showcase gave students the chance to voice their suggestions for local action, which were received by a crowd of over 150 students and several district leaders, including school board directors Laura Babitt and Jennifer Shanoski, the district sustainability coordinator, Sofia Peltz and council member Kate Harrison.
The showcase followed a student-led climate summit in October, where Berkeley High teenagers heard from other student activists and brainstormed their own priorities for local climate action. A small group of students researched climate solutions they thought their high school could implement and presented them at the showcase.
Students’ ideas included: electrifying the energy infrastructure at Berkeley schools, advocating to divest California teacher pensions from fossil fuels, planting native plants in a practice called “zero-scaping” and more.
“This is where we come in, in building our own Emerald City,” Zeia Bachrach, a junior at Berkeley High, said in her presentation. Bachrach, a junior, asked the district to better prepare students for green jobs through career fairs and internships.
Director Babitt voiced support for an idea that made Berkeley High a “replacement site” for reusable takeout containers through an app called Vessel. (Working with fifth-grade teacher Jaqueline Omani, students at Oxford Elementary have spent years trying to get the school to shift to reusable containers during lunch.)
Shanoski, who is a chemistry professor and president of Peralta colleges’ Federation of Teachers, was excited about a pitch to add a permaculture and design course. Merritt College already offers a permaculture course, and she suggested that Berkeley High students could take the class through dual enrollment.
“I love the fact that they had concrete things that they were asking for and that I was sitting next to two board members,” said Martha Cain, a retired Longfellow Middle School teacher who was part of the team of four that helped get the climate literacy resolution off the ground last year.
The showcase is tied to that initiative, which aims to put funding and structure behind the district’s climate education and make it a comprehensive part of students’ learning.
Berkeley Unified already has a host of sustainability goals: achieve carbon neutrality by 2050; reduce water use 15% by 2030; get 80% of students living within two miles to walk or bike to school, make all students environmentally literate, among others. Many of the students’ climate solutions referenced the 2018 sustainability plan and aimed to help the district meet the goals outlined in it in new ways.
“I was weeping in the front row,” said Sarah Ranney, who was another member of the climate literacy team. She snapped photos of every student who gave a presentation.
The student presentations capped off a day-long climate showcase that featured presentations by students who were learning English on the impacts of climate change in the countries they immigrated from, like Bangladesh and the Philippines. There was also a climate fair on the campus green with projects by Advanced Biology students in Erin Smith’s class, a gallery of ceramics and paintings, a bike fix-it station from Waterside Workshop and a display by Sun Light & Power, a local solar contractor.
Aryn Faur, one of over a dozen teachers who helped organize the event, beamed with pride.
“I’m always looking for authentic products and engagement where students really do feel like they have a voice and they really are grappling with the real life issues,” Faur said. “And I can’t think of a more important topic for our students to be anchoring their learning around right now.”