Students push PPS toward climate justice
Nichole Berg is doing a job that no one has done before.
Berg was recently hired as the new — and only — programs manager for climate change and climate justice in Portland School District.
The position aligns with the district's Resolution 5272 passed in 2016 to develop a plan for climate literacy within Portland schools.
Twice in the six months prior to Berg's hire, students across Portland walked out of classes to protest inaction on climate change and to draw attention to the lack of climate curriculum within Portland Public Schools. Students said the district had adopted the climate resolution, but had yet to keep up with its promise.
Berg hails from Madison, Wisc. She took the job after seeing an ad for the position via Facebook, the district noted, and left her position as a middle school vice principal. She landed in her new role in late September. The position comes with a salary range of $80,000 to $95,000.
"Part of my job is really to help move the work forward with curriculum design," Berg said. "Students have voiced concern that they don't have enough opportunities for climate change or climate justice in their curriculum."
While climate science and climate change are part of the science curriculum, students say it hasn't gone far enough to capture the immediacy or certainty of the issue.
Right now, Berg is consulting several student groups and working to integrate a plan for incorporating climate-change education into social studies and science courses at the kindergarten through 12th grade levels. She's also looking at a climate-centered elective course for high schoolers.
"With the growing global concern regarding climate change, PPS is taking an innovative approach and bold stance to support educators and students by developing relevant climate justice curriculum and activities," PPS Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero said.
If anything, the climate curriculum position is a sign of the times.
Worldwide, youths have been at the center of discussions and demonstrations over environmental issues.
As 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg continues to rally for less reliance on non-renewable resources, an end to fossil fuels and stronger action to curb pollution, teens have followed suit, forming environmental justice clubs on campus, staging demonstrations and holding "Fridays for Future" strikes.
"It is clear that youth have a unique perspective on the issue of climate justice, which is why it is so important for us to be taking strong action," a youth activist group wrote in a September letter to the school district.
On Friday, Dec. 6, students gathered downtown for the third climate rally of the year, this time focusing on impacts to indigenous people.
"Climate change is an issue directly impacting our students and we have to prepare them for a world that is vastly different from the one we grew up in," Berg said.
Some say the district is too quick to cave to student demands, but Berg says critics may not understand the complexity behind everything.
"We want to teach them how to think, not what to think," Berg said.
Berg said much of the new curriculum will be project and inquiry-based, relying on data collection and interviews by students.
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