‘Cool the Schools’ campaign reaches out to local kids

Alyssa Fairbanks

The “Cool the Schools Campaign” seeks to open an active dialogue with the youth of Walla Walla concerning current environmental issues facing the globe. The Whitman College Environmental Education for Kids Club (EEK), Youth Adventure Program (YAP) and the Campus Climate Challenge (CCC) worked with the Sustainable Living Center of Walla Walla to put together the campaign.  

At least 36 trained volunteers will be placed into three local elementary and middle schools to teach students about the environment, various climate issues and what they can do to personally make a difference. Each lesson will last approximately an hour and will be during the weeks of April 6-10, April 13-17 and April 20-25.  

With the help of the National Forest Service at Fort Walla Walla the Campaign put together a curriculum that incorporates lesson plans from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and addresses national learning standards.  

The three main points of the curriculum are “getting across basic scientific understanding of climate change, talking about carbon footprints and finishing with tangible things the kids can do,” said Elena Gustafson, Campaign organizer and founder of the Youth Adventure Program.  

“We are going to have a lot of discussions with the kids, scientific experiments and other activities to bring these points home.”

Gustafson feels it is important to bring these lessons specifically to elementary and middle school students. “First of all, it’s important for Whitman students to be a part of the greater Walla Walla community and to have a positive impact on kids in this area,” said Julia Lakes, Campaign organizer and leader of the Environmental Education for Kids Club.  

“In addition, these kids have never been exposed to the majority of the material we are presenting and I think if we are going to slow down climate change or at least live more responsibility, it is going to come from the youth.”  

The Cool the Schools Campaign will provide a forum for children to discuss what the adult media so often portrays as “doom and gloom” scenarios.  

“Kids need to have the chance to talk about climate change and have a space to discuss their fears,” said Gustafson. “I mean, I’ve worked with 5 year olds who, unprompted, ask questions about why the earth is sick and what climate change is going to do to them.”

“If our kids, who are scared and suffering because of a lack of time in nature and fear of these big abstract problems, are not educated, we are going to run into bigger problems in the future,” said Gustafson.  

She hopes that with these lessons, the program will create an atmosphere of learning. Students will be able to get their questions answered and will start caring more about the environment they live in. In addition, she hopes they will come away with constructive things they can do at home and at school to help.

Gustafson acknowledges that there is only so much volunteers can teach kids in a short period of time. This being the first year of the Campaign, Gustafson is happy with the enthusiasm they have received from volunteers and teachers.  

For more information about Whitman College’s efforts to address environmental issues visit the Campus Climate Challenge Web site at http://whitmanccc.wordpress.com/. Additionally, the EPA Web site, http://www.epa.gov/ provides educational and practical resources for anyone who wants to learn more about the issues. Specifically, there is a link to “protecting the environment: at school.”