A young generation of eco-citizens
A young generation of eco-citizens
When we announced our GREEN IMPACT initiative earlier this year, our promise was to take direct actions that counteract the effects of climate change on our planet and restore the promise of a fulfilling life for future generations. We know that environmental issues such as these aren’t hypothetical consequences set off into the future and that there are very real impacts in the here-and-now. How we choose to act in our present will have a profound impact on the world we leave for younger generations.
Because of this, one aspect of our varied efforts to address these challenges has been to support the education of students on environmental issues. Two years ago, New Jersey became the first – and remains the only – state to make climate change part of their standards and requirements for classroom teaching.
This need for climate change education was one we recognized and is what led us to launch the Panasonic Student Eco Citizenship Program eight years ago. The program was developed in collaboration with the Foundation for Impact on Literacy and Learning (FILL) and utilizes project-based learning experience for students in 5th-8th grade across New Jersey and Colorado, where the program expanded in 2019. Working in teams of four, these students are guided to:
- Define an environmental issue
- Create actions to help solve the issue
- Apply actions in their community to help solve the program
- Evaluate the actions conducted and share the results.
Using these steps, student teams submit an Eco Diary entry into the New Jersey or Colorado Competitions. At the conclusion, ten student teams in New Jersey and five in Colorado are chosen as winners and awarded prizes. Often, these projects incorporate topics where environmental issues can have an impact, from land of indigenous peoples to access to safe drinking water for instance or addressing the issue of “fast fashion” by turning used clothes into dog toys.
During the 2019-2020 school year, Kristen Heeres, teacher at Valdez Elementary in Denver, worked to develop lessons on diversity with this study of the environment. Through this program, her students studied the monarch butterfly and linked those ideas to the broader realities of DREAMers, young people who are seeking change as they migrate from one area to another. In this exercise, students compared the journey of a monarch butterfly to the journey of a dreamer, and the systemic challenges present in this transformation. Students then created a tree with words that served a symbol for both experiences.
Winning the 2020-2021 session was Fremont Elementary in Arvada, CO, where students studied the issue of electronic waste. In their Eco Diary, the students noted that there were 50 million metric tons of electronic waste created in 2019, but that only 17.4% of that waste was recycled. They resolved to address this issue from two perspectives. First, inspired by sculpture artists who use repurposed materials, the students created a sculpture built from electronic waste. The students also created a drop-off in a classroom to encourage students and others to recycle their electronic waste properly.
Working with educators
Investments made by the Panasonic Foundation focus on incubating ideas and developing public/private partnerships that directly impact students and provide them with the skills and credentials they are going to need to lead fulfilling and successful lives, with a commitment to supporting under-resourced communities. The Panasonic Student Eco Citizenship Program is no exception. Working with FILL, the program aims to address gaps in educational opportunities for students in these under-resourced school systems by proactively engaging with these communities – though all are welcome to participate.
More than 85 different cities are participating in this year’s 2021-2022 program, including 76 different school districts across New Jersey and Colorado. Teachers in these districts have access to resources and work along with the foundation, which has developed curriculum that meets the requirements for climate change education instituted by New Jersey in 2020. Dr. Lucy Lekunze, Biology teacher at Orange Preparatory Academy in Orange, NJ, was impressed with the inventiveness her students showed once they became determined to reduce waste by designing reusable diapers.
“The kids are surprising me with their designer skills,” Dr. Lekunze said. “They are participating in an in-house competition for best cloth diaper designer in quality and quantity.”
At Panasonic, we believe innovative ideas – and a will to act – will help us address the challenges presented to society, including climate change. This potential to make a positive contribution to society is what drives our work across many sectors and industries. Since its creation in 1984, the Panasonic Foundation has been deeply rooted in advancing equity as the driver to improve the academic and social success of all students. The goal is to provide disadvantaged students with the skills and credentials they will need to lead fulfilling and successful lives in a global 21st-century economy.
For more information on the work of the Panasonic Foundation, visit our website. You can also learn more about the Panasonic Eco Citizenship Program and the work we do with the Foundation for Impact on Literacy and Learning by visiting the program’s website.