By Randall Solomon
The climate crisis is one of the most critical threats to the planet, and its effects are especially pronounced in New Jersey. To make the transition to a low-carbon, more resilient future, we need to incorporate educational solutions.
Climate change education works. When students learn about the effects of climate change and develop a personal connection to climate solutions, their daily behaviors and decision making change, reducing their carbon footprint.
When the State Board of Education adopted the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in June 2020, New Jersey became the first state in the nation to incorporate K-12 climate change education across all content areas. New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy is a dedicated supporter of climate change education and has played an important role in the state’s leadership in this area.
In March 2021, the New Jersey Climate Change Thought Leadership Committee convened to create a plan for implementing the Climate Change Education Student Learning Standards, resulting in the “Report on K-12 Climate Change Education Needs in New Jersey.” To address the recommendations from the report, the New Jersey School Boards Association, Sustainable Jersey, The College of New Jersey, New Jersey Audubon, National Wildlife Federation and SubjectToClimate formed the New Jersey Climate Change Education Initiative. This initiative created the New Jersey Climate Change Education Hub to support schools as they integrate climate change into their curricula.
Climate change resources for NJ educators
The New Jersey Climate Change Education Hub, launched in June 2022, equips educators with teaching materials aligned to the new Climate Change Education Student Learning Standards. Found at
NJClimateEducation.org, it is searchable by grade level and subject area. This free hub has exemplar lesson plans written by New Jersey educators, a database of more than 1,500 teaching resources, professional learning opportunities and guidance for school boards.
Lesson plans by NJ teachers for NJ teachers
Working with the nonprofit SubjectToClimate, teachers created the exemplar lesson plans provided on the New Jersey Climate Change Education Hub. The easy-to-follow, interdisciplinary lesson plans show users how to integrate climate change into the topics they already teach in the classroom.
Each lesson plan is carefully reviewed using a rubric designed with input from New Jersey stakeholders, such as those who are members of the New Jersey Climate Change Thought Leadership Committee. The review process includes self-review, peer-review and review by the SubjectToClimate chief learning designer and chief content officer. A climate scientist checks all the materials.
Sustainable Jersey for Schools is a certification program for pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade public schools. It provides guidance and support to schools that implement steps to be sustainable in their operations and proactive in preparing students for the challenges they will face in the future. Many schools that have achieved certification with Sustainable Jersey for Schools are already incorporating climate change education into the classroom. Teachers from certified schools are helping to create the lesson plans provided on the New Jersey Climate Change Education Hub.
George L. Catrambone School, Egg Harbor High School, Highland Park Middle School, Hopewell Valley Central High School and Stillwater Elementary School have achieved Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification. Teachers from these schools were selected to develop some of the lesson plans available on the New Jersey Climate Change Education Hub.
Find the tone in the zone
For over seven years, Yen-Yen Chiu, Ed.D., has taught at Highland Park Middle School in Middlesex County. All four schools in the Highland Park School District are certified with Sustainable Jersey for Schools.
Chiu grew up in Southern California, where she experienced firsthand the impacts of severe weather and the challenges of conserving water in periods of drought. Chiu’s expertise in curriculum development made her an ideal candidate to work with SubjectToClimate to develop curriculum.
The lesson plans available on the New Jersey Climate Change Education Hub that Chiu developed include:
- Evaluating Personal Perspectives: Climate Change Effects
- Find the Tone in the Zone
- Climate Change Local Research
- Gaming and Climate Change
- Desalination Exploration
These plans are for grades 9-12 and span content specific and multidisciplinary curricula aligned to the New Jersey Climate Change Education Student Learning Standards in English language arts, math, social-emotional learning, computer science and engineering.
“As I created the lesson plans, I was constantly asking myself: Would this work in my classroom and with my students?” Chiu explained.
As a teacher of English language arts and algebra, pre-algebra and foundational math, Chiu brings a unique perspective that spans different subject areas.
“By creating this curriculum, we are showing that climate change is a subject that goes beyond science class,” Chiu said. “Climate change is also a social, political and economic problem. By incorporating climate change into all subjects, the students will develop a strong set of skills that will allow them to apply their knowledge in the real world, including problem-solving, critical thinking, teamwork, negotiation and more.”
Chiu is hoping to partner with other teachers on her sixth-grade teaching team at Highland Park Middle School to cover a lesson plan across two subjects and classes. She also noted that whatever the school’s favored teaching approach—exit ticket, creative time, independent process, the “do now”—each lesson plan works well with each style.
Chiu said that her lesson plan, Find the Tone in the Zone, is a good example of the use of climate change information within the context of an English language arts class. In this lesson, students learn the five climate zones in New Jersey and interpret facts into a poetic voice from the point of view of nature.
“I don’t think most people in New Jersey know that we have five climate zones,” she said. “After the student learns about each zone, they are asked to write couplets about one area. You approach the subject of climate change from a new lens when you incorporate poetry and creativity. I am glad these resources are available on the New Jersey Climate Change Education Hub for all teachers to use.”
Art and climate action
Carolyn McGrath is a teacher of visual arts at Hopewell Valley Central High School and a highly regarded sustainability leader in the Hopewell Valley Regional School District. For over 18 years, McGrath has been an environmental club adviser working with students on issues such as recycling, composting, waste reduction and, more recently, climate change. She is a co-facilitator of the Hopewell Valley Regional School District Green Team.
Working with SubjectToClimate, McGrath created four lesson plans:
- The Art of Climate Change
- Art and Climate Action
- Youth Climate Action
- Youth Climate Hero Portraits
These lesson plans are for middle to high school students and aligned to the New Jersey Climate Change Education Student Learning Standards in art.
“I’m very proud of the work we are doing in Hopewell Valley through our district and school-based green teams. We have demonstrated the ability to take on challenging environmental issues and follow through with meaningful action,” McGrath said. “This is important because our students understand what is at stake. They are ready for us to address the climate crisis head on. As adults, we can’t just hand over the problem. It’s our job to work side by side with young people to create a better future for everyone.”
McGrath served as the teacher mentor to the Hopewell Valley Central High School team that received first place in the 2022 New Jersey Student Climate Challenge statewide contest. Her student team authored a 28-page Climate Action Proposal for the Hopewell Valley School District that addresses clean energy, clean transportation, sustainable food use, sustainable school grounds and more. The school received a $2,500 grant that can be used for future sustainability-focused projects.
What about bees?
A dedicated teacher and sustainability leader, Elaine Makarevich has taught at Stillwater Elementary School in Sussex County for 29 years. As green team coordinator, Makarevich led her team to achieve Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification and successfully funded sustainability initiatives by securing $26,000 in grants through the Sustainable Jersey for Schools grant program.
Makarevich supported the creation of a student-led Cafeteria Connection Recycling Team, in partnership with school staff and the municipal recycling center. The group developed a recycling plan for the lunchroom and educated students about proper recycling practices. Lessons about waste management, recycling and sustainability were integrated into the curriculum.
“I’m proud of the real impact we have had on reducing waste through these efforts,” Makarevich said. “The best part is that the students have led the way.”
Makarevich used a Sustainable Jersey for Schools grant to support the creation of the Stillwater Schoolyard Garden and Greenhouse. The facility, which also has a gazebo, serves as an outdoor classroom for the students.
“I’m glad our students can be outside and enjoy beautiful Stillwater as part of their school day,” Makarevich said. “The uses for the space are endless and both teachers and students have enjoyed learning in it.”
Makarevich used her experiences teaching in the Stillwater School Garden when she created her lesson plans for the New Jersey Climate Change Education Hub. Working with SubjectToClimate, Makarevich created three Hub lesson plans:
- What About Bees?
- Plants Without Soil?
- Los Animales y el Clima
These plans are for grades K-5 and span content specific and multidisciplinary curricula aligned to the New Jersey Climate Change Education Student Learning Standards in science, English language arts, health and world languages.
In the lesson plan What About Bees?, students learn about the importance of bees to humans and the food supply and how to create a healthy habitat for bees. With assistance from the teacher, students create an action plan for how they will help bees in New Jersey, and they will learn how climate change is impacting the bee population.
“The lesson plan encourages students to think about how humans have affected the bees’ habitats here in New Jersey and around the world,” Makarevich explained. “Through the creation of an action plan, students are empowered by the understanding that they can make a difference, even at a young age, right in their own New Jersey schoolyards or backyards.”
Cleaner, more sustainable future
With the implementation of the Climate Change Education Student Learning Standards, New Jersey will better equip its students to combat the climate crisis, thrive in the green economy of the future and become the leaders who will accelerate the state’s progress toward a cleaner, more sustainable future. The New Jersey Climate Change Education Hub provides educators with the resources needed to integrate climate change into the classroom.
Thank you to the more than one thousand schools that are participating in Sustainable Jersey for Schools and the dedicated teachers who are leading sustainability efforts at the local level.
Randall Solomon is the executive director of Sustainable Jersey. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Grants and technical assistance programs
Sustainable Jersey offers multiple competitive grant and technical assistance opportunities funded by program underwriters and partner organizations each year.
Since 2009, Sustainable Jersey has awarded over $6.5 million in grants to participating municipalities, schools and school districts. The Sustainable Jersey for Schools grant program underwriters are NJEA, the Gardinier Environmental Fund and the PSEG Foundation.
For the 2022-23 grants cycle, NJEA is contributing $180,000 to support the Sustainable Jersey for Schools Grants Program. The funding supports efforts to implement Sustainable Jersey for Schools actions that make progress toward a sustainable future and earn points towards certification. The application deadline for the NJEA grants cycle is Nov. 21 at 11:59 p.m.
New Jersey Student Climate Challenge
The New Jersey Student Climate Challenge encourages public, middle, and high school students to identify and complete a school or community project to address a cause or impact of climate change. Students then create a short digital story video to share what they have accomplished. The winners are recognized at an awards event. In addition, the schools with winning submissions receive a grant to support their climate education initiatives. The 2022–23 school year Climate Challenge will launch in early October 2022.
New Jersey Climate Change Education Hub
Exemplar lesson plans: Developed by teachers, each lesson plan is New Jersey-centric and aligned with New Jersey Student Learning Standards (NJSLS) so users can teach to the climate change education standards of tomorrow.
1,500+ teaching resources: The online resource database is searchable by keywords, subjects, grade level, NJSLS and more. A scientist and a teacher have reviewed all resources.
Professional learning: Educators can find the right professional learning opportunity for their school, whether it is a workshop for curriculum development, courses or articles to guide teachers on how to teach about climate change.
Guidance for school boards: School boards have access to guiding documents to support schools implementing the climate change education standards.
NJ Climate Change Education Hub
Sustainable Jersey for Schools
NJ Student Climate Challenge
Sustainable Jersey Grants and Technical Assistance
New Jersey Climate Change Teaching Fellows
For standards to be effectively implemented, the New Jersey Climate Change Education Initiative recommended that teachers be supported with adequate resources. New Jersey teachers were recruited to join the inaugural class of New Jersey Climate Change Teaching Fellows. The teaching fellows who created exemplar lessons plans for the New Jersey Climate Change Education Hub include:
- Yen-Yen Chiu, Ed.D., Highland Park Middle School, Highland Park School District
- Christa Delaney, Egg Harbor High School, Egg Harbor Township School District
- Suzanne Horsley, Hopewell Valley Regional School District
- Elaine Makarevich, Stillwater Township Elementary School, Stillwater Township School District
- Carolyn McGrath, Hopewell Valley Central High School, Hopewell Valley Regional School District
- Kelly Stone, George L. Catrambone School, Long Branch Public Schools District
At the NJEA Convention this Nov. 10-11, fellows will present their exemplar lesson plans and assist participants in exploring how to integrate climate change education into their existing lesson plans.