Climate Learning and Leadership

Danny Stock

GDS learning and leadership around the environment and changing climate continues both in spite of and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Moving chronologically through the grade levels—and beyond—we are highlighting some of the meaningful work by our students, faculty, and alums.

In 2nd grade, prior to school closure, students learned about the Australian wildfires and the emergency response to that climate and humanitarian crisis . They then designed evacuation centers for both humans and animals (including livestock and injured wildlife). Students started by incorporating what they had learned previously about engineering (1st grade) and classification (fall of 2nd grade) to decide what humans and animals need to not only be safe, but also to thrive in their temporary homes. Students also wrote letters of thanks and support to the volunteer firefighters and wildlife caregivers working to keep people and animals safe. “At GDS we strive to incorporate lessons that help our students to be engaged global citizens,” explained Lower School science teacher Kathleen Dawson. “It was awesome to observe the enthusiasm, collaboration, and extraordinary focus the students put into this project. I believe the students felt a sense of responsibility in this activity as it was based on a meaningful and relevant current event. The students’ thoughtfulness and empathy throughout this project never ceased to surprise me.”

The annual 4th grade unit on sustainable energy has taken place exclusively via distance learning this spring. Last week, students “traveled” to a hydroelectric power plant in Kansas to learn about generation from Sarah Hill-Nelson, the aunt of a current student. While on Zoom, she walked students along the catwalk above the low-head dam, showed them the magnetic turbines on the generator, and stood in front of a high-voltage warning onsite (photo below). Next up, students will learn with Johns Hopkins University Professor Susanna Thon about solar energy and solar cells (see below for details about GDS’s solar array). At the end of the month, a GDS parent will join the class to talk about geothermal energy.

In 6th grade Green Corps, the first of three Middle School community engagement and experiential learning programs, students have continued their focus on gardening and feeding local communities. During distance learning, students received planters and seeds from the school. They planted their seeds, named their plant, and predicted germination times. “Leafy,” “Greens,” “Odious Little Toad,” “Lechuga,” “Megan the Skinny Legend,” and more have begun growing. Coordinators Julia Blount and Leigh Tait told students, “Tell us how much you’ve been watering your plant, how much sun it is getting, and if you see any sprouts yet! We can't wait to see your green friends grow!”

“I enjoy growing stuff at home,” Anjali said. “It's nice to have something that you are responsible for.” Henry wrote, “I found that lettuce is a sturdy plant that can really grow whenever and wherever it likes. I feel that taking care of a plant is a fun task that fits perfectly with my schedule.” Sadly, Noa wrote, “I'm afraid I can't write [an] entry because a robin ripped out my shoots to build its nest. Tears. Rest in pieces.”

The 7th grade students, as part of GDS Conservation Corps, met with their advisory groups this week to respond to their in-person visits to peer school dining halls in February. They will share their feedback with GDS leadership and Meriweather Godsey—our new dining services vendor—”in the hopes of making the on-campus dining program as sustainable as possible,” Leigh explained.

Young High School student leaders have continued to enhance a website originally built when they were Middle School students. Visit 1.5 Degrees, A Youth Climate Publication to read reporting on politicized climate issues, the impact of COVID-19 on environmental concerns, and the legacy of Earth Day. The students have also curated articles and podcasts to inform ongoing learning about climate issues. They are planning the launch of their next quarterly newsletter, titled “The Past and Future of Climate and Environmental Activism.”

At the passing of the torch of Enviro Club leadership, outgoing leaders celebrated the joy of the outdoors with a video compiled from student photo submissions. Incoming leaders helped to publicize the first-ever GDS Virtual Earth Day + Pride Conference.

The GDS ImproveMyCommute team brought together local leaders in environmental activism, transportation management, government, business, and stewardship for two days of virtual workshops in celebration of Earth Day and GDS Pride Week. Recordings of each of the sessions are available here.

Those who have followed construction progress and updates to the High School will know about the huge solar array now generating on the roof of the High School, the planned installation of a live green roof on the new Lower/Middle School building, and an anticipated LEED gold rating for the new building.

Finally, GDS alum Juliet Eilperin ’88 won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on “environmental devastation in global hot spots.” You can read more about the Washington Post team who won the award here.

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