GU climate center grant will help with education efforts in Spokane
Mon., Sept. 26, 2022
A $100,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency will help the Gonzaga University Center for Climate, Society, and the Environment continue its work in climate literacy by enlisting other organizations in its educational mission.
Professor Brian Henning is director of the center, which opened in April 2021. He said the environment education grant looked like a good fit for the climate literacy work the center is doing and applied. A total of 34 organizations in the U.S. were awarded similar grants this summer, with the Climate Center being one of three recipients in Washington.
Henning said he liked that the grant required the recipient to give away 25% of the money in $5,000 increments to other organizations. “It really has a great way of expanding the impact in the community,” he said.
The community organizations selected are the West Valley Outdoor Learning Center, the Lands Council, Spokane Riverkeeper, the Inland Northwest Land Conservancy and the Dishman Hills Conservancy. Henning said he was looking for well -established organizations that already do environmental education work.
Karlie Honebein, program coordinator at the GU climate center, said the $5,000 can be a helpful boost to existing programs. “It’s certainly not enough to start a new program,” she said. “We thought these dollars would go further to support existing programs.”
The bulk of the grant money will be used to support climate center programs, including professional development training sessions offered to local educators. Those sessions help teachers localize climate education, such as having their students explore how the climate affects the Spokane River and the mountain snowpack.
But the main focus of the grant will be to hire four fellows, Gonzaga undergraduate students from a variety of backgrounds, to develop climate literacy lessons for students in grades 6-8 in the Spokane Public Schools district. A total of eight fellows are about to start work.
The fellows are given training in lesson planning and classroom management, then given time to develop ideas and create lesson plans that will be taught in local schools. Last year’s fellows created lesson plans for grades 2-5.
Last year’s efforts created hands-on lessons that explored topics such as the weather, forecasting and green energy sources such as windmills, hydroelectric dams and solar power. Honebein said that many young students don’t realize that the dam in downtown Spokane actually generates some of the power that they use in their homes.
“They’ve seen it before, but they just don’t know what it’s doing,” she said.
The lessons are not just focused on climate. They also include math and some teach students how to collect and use data in experiments. “We’re really trying to do cross-standards work, not just science,” Honebein said.
The fellows have the freedom to select the topics for each lesson that they create. “We rely on our fellows to come up with ideas,” Honebein said. “They’ll look at the standards and find a place where climate will be an appropriate lens to learn that standard.”
Once the lessons are created, the fellows will fan out across the Spokane Public Schools district to teach the lessons to students. In the process, they’re hopefully getting students excited about science, Henning said.
All the lessons the fellows created last year and the ones made this year will be posted online at oercommons.org, a public digital library, where they will be available for free to teachers across the country.
Henning said he’s pleased the EPA grant allowed the climate center to hire more fellows. “I suspect one of the reasons our grant application was successful was the innovative fellows programs with undergraduates teaching students,” he said.
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