by Jessica Jones
“We are a community of learners, who through relationships are building awareness of environmental, racial, social, and economic inequities. This knowledge inspires us to serve with our communities to advocate, to heal, and to ‘lift as we climb.'”
I have the privilege of exploring science with the most passionate, curious group of kids in the world. I teach middle school science at Whitewater Middle School, a Title I school with a majority black and brown student population. We are a STEM magnet school with a focus on environmental sustainability. Partnering with Clean Air Carolina has helped us expand our program and engage our students.
Last summer I joined a team of teachers who were challenged with creating an interdisciplinary unit across grades 6th, 7th, and 8th. We wanted the entire school to be focused on environmental sustainability. Sixth grade approached sustainability through soil, seventh grade focused on air quality, and eighth grade focused on water quality. Work with Clean Air Carolina became a central component of our air quality efforts.
Making Sustainability Relevant
We began planning with the focus of making environmental sustainability relevant for our black and brown students and their communities.
Through the partnership with Clean Air Carolina, 300 students were trained to use the Air Beam sensors to monitor air quality. After becoming citizen scientists, students realized that even when the air smelled clean it could hold unhealthy levels of particulate matter. As a result of that discovery, students became advocates within their school community. Inspired by the data collected with the air monitors, a group of students now uses air quality flags to keep our school community up-to-date on the current quality of the air.
Connecting Communities to Sustainability
We recognized the importance of our students expanding their critical analysis beyond our classroom walls and into their communities. In response to this growing curiosity, we attempted to create simulations in the classroom that represented the air in their homes. Through exploration, my students concluded that much of the air they breathed at home was filled with toxic particulate matter. With that awareness, students wanted to act.
Being the Voice
The final phase of our air quality education program encouraged students to connect to their voices. AirKeeper Ron Ross came in to share his story of advocating for better air quality in his Historic West End neighborhoods. This helped launch our student voice series. Students are learning the basics of uniting and fighting for change.
As we move into our human body systems standards, students will research the real effects of poor air quality. As a part of our final project, students will be engineering affordable, effective air filters to donate to community spaces.