By ROB SMITH/ecoRI News Team
PROVIDENCE — A bill that would introduce climate change education resources into Rhode Island classrooms is being met with support, though critics say it would overburden already stressed teachers.
Representative Terri Cortvriend, D-Portsmouth, and Senator Valerie Lawson, D-East Providence, introduced the Climate Literacy Act (H7275/S2039) in both houses of the General Assembly. The bill requires the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) to compile resources for educators of all programs to add climate and environmental literacy programs to existing classrooms.
“This is an opportunity for us to provide people who educate people in all of these areas with more resources to do so,” Lawson said. “It’s something we all appreciate as educators, and children too.”
Survey data from the Yale Climate Change Communication Program found that 77% of Rhode Islanders think college students should learn about climate change. Despite the strict curriculum requirements, RIDE does not require educators in the state to include environmental or climate education in the classroom, but advocates want to change that, with a broad-based approach at all levels.
Under the proposed legislation, RIDE would be required to consult with environmental experts and current educators to create a resource bank containing lesson plans and other teaching materials that teachers could use to incorporate environmental or change themes. climate in the classroom. The resources would be available to any public or charter school under RIDE’s jurisdiction. The wording of the legislation would also provide resources for potential career paths in the green economy.
Proponents emphasize the need to tailor resources to both classroom and grade level.
“You don’t talk to a 5-year-old about p-values in research papers, how everything [with climate change] it’s death and destruction,” said Jeanine Silversmith, executive director of the Rhode Island Environmental Education Association. “You get them excited about the natural world, encourage good observation skills, how to argue what they see, debate what they see with another student, or give feedback to their peers. These are all good science skills. It simply uses climate change as an anchor phenomenon.
The bill received broad support at a recent hearing by the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee of Educators and Business Groups. This is the second year in a row that climate literacy legislation has been introduced.
“What we found very appealing about the bill last year was the way it’s structured,” said James Parisi, a union representative for the Rhode Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals. Island. “It’s not adding another ornament to the Christmas tree, it’s not adding additional requirements [for graduation].”
But not everyone agreed with this assessment, and some expressed concern that already time-strapped teachers were being overwhelmed by the demands and professional development overload.
“We passed the Right to Read Act a few years ago and it had major implications for teacher training,” said Tim Ryan, a lobbyist for the Rhode Island School Superintendents Association. “Some teachers have spent over 100 hours training on the right to read.”
A member of the public testified at the House hearing in opposition to the bill. “I think climate literacy is a controversial topic,” said Scituate resident Laurie Gaddis Barrett. “We bring political ideology into the classroom.”
Cortvriend said during his talk that at least one teacher told him they were avoiding the topic because it was too controversial.
“All the more reason we need to teach it, because it really is science,” she said. “If we all understand science, then we can discuss the politics of what we do to meet scientific challenges. [of climate change].”
The bill was retained for further study.