Climate change is one of the most pressing and complex issues that families and schools face today. Further, it’s an issue that California State PTA is committed to addressing.
In recent years, delegates to the California State PTA convention have adopted resolutions that provide every PTA with the authority needed to take a stand regarding climate change:
- Climate Change is a Children’s Issue (adopted in 2015) calls for PTAs in California to educate families about climate issues and to urge school districts to both educate students about climate change and make local schools more climate safe and energy efficient.
- Net Zero Emission Schools (adopted in 2020) addresses changes in school facilities and operations needed to specifically reduce the greenhouse gas emissions which are causing climate change.
The sheer scale of this challenge can be overwhelming. Fortunately, engaging and empowering your local community does not need to be.
Your PTA can play an important role by learning about what is happening in your school and district, and finding a place where you can make a difference. This framework from the Resources Center for Environmental and Climate Action in Schools provides a helpful way to think about those opportunities.
[MP NOTE: source of graphic: 4Cs Framework: https://sites.google.com/view/scrs-center/vision-and-framework/4cs-framework ]
How to Start the Climate Conversation at Your School or School District
The three major areas of the framework (campus, curriculum, and community & culture) offer different objectives your PTA could work on. In each case, you can draw on free resources to learn about these issues, as highlighted on the Climate Change page of the CA State PTA website. Then you can ask school officials questions like the ones below to find out what is currently happening in your community.
Campus Sustainability and Resilience
Each school facilities project – be it new construction, retrofitting and repair, or replacement – is an opportunity to protect students and teachers from climate-related health hazards and disruptions. Examples include adopting sustainable construction practices, electrifying building systems such as heating and air conditioning, installing solar panels and battery storage, creating green schoolyards, and transitioning to zero emission school buses.
Ask school officials:
- What is our school district doing to use more clean energy in its buildings, transportation, and nutrition services?
- Has the district adopted a plan for climate sustainability?
- To what extent do any upcoming facility improvements or construction projects incorporate green technologies and practices?
- What are we doing to ensure that school buildings stay safe, cool, and dry in the face of our changing climate?
- What has/can our school board commit to for taking environmental and climate action?
- Are district officials aware of the funding available to support these goals?
Curriculum Related to Environmental Literacy and Climate Careers
Climate change will affect where and how future generations live and develop their livelihoods. To continue to adapt and innovate, and ultimately to thrive, our children need to be climate-literate. Study of the environment must become central to their educational experience and career preparation. California offers a wealth of support for environmental education; however, only 29% of current teachers report that environmental concepts are explored in their lessons.
Ask school officials:
- Are environmental and climate topics taught across subjects and grade levels?
- Does our district have an existing environmental or climate literacy plan or school board policy for environmental education?
- How, if at all, does our district provide professional development to educators on environmental literacy, climate change, climate solutions, and sustainability?
- Does our district have career and technical education opportunities to prepare students for emerging opportunities in a clean economy?
Schools and Communities as Climate Partners
A neighborhood school is a place where the social fabric and feeling of a community is made. On a climate-resilient campus, not only teachers and students, but also families and neighbors can find shelter and respite. Moreover, climate-adaptive school infrastructure and grounds could provide models for other community sites. For students in particular, schools must also be places of social-emotional support and places where students see how they can work toward change.
Ask school officials:
- How will climate risks potentially affect students, families, learning, and schools? Do those risks differ by communities or schools within our district?
- Are schools in our district equipped to be hubs of community resilience? Are there government resources or community partners that can help?
- Are there supports currently in place to meet students’ mental health needs in the event of community-wide trauma from climate impacts?
- Does our school community offer opportunities to celebrate environmental and climate awareness and action?
To Learn More
To help your PTA think more about how to get members involved and decide on actions to take, see this Parent Climate Advocacy Toolkit which National PTA helped develop.
For a summary of what is happening at schools in California, and for related funding opportunities, read the Climate Resilient California Schools action plan from the Climate Ready Schools Coalition.
For a wealth of other questions you can ask in order to identify places your PTA can start working on climate action, download this Guide from ThisIsPlanetEd.org.