Teen Activists Seek Robust Climate Change Education in NH’s Public Schools

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Ani Freedman photo

Youth climate activists and State Reps Wendy Thomas and Tony Caplan stand together after testifying in support of HR30 in the Legislative Office Building in Concord on Tuesday.


A group of high school students have been fighting to change New Hampshire public schools’ curricula to incorporate a more robust climate change education. On Tuesday, a House Resolution that would advance those efforts was heard before the House Education Committee, with half a dozen teenage activists testifying in support of the legislation.

The students are a part of the youth coalition of 350NH, a local climate activist nonprofit organization part of the national 350.org movement. When they’re not in school, they’ve been holding meetings, attending school board sessions to advocate for the curriculum they are envisioning, and taking steps to combat the climate crisis.

After feeling their environmental science education was not sufficient to study the multifaceted consequences of the climate crisis, discuss renewable energy initiatives, and how young people can address the climate crisis, the students took action.

“It’s a whole area of science that we’re practically ignoring in schools,” said Abigail Witkoskie, a high school freshman and member of the 350NH team, during one of the group’s Zoom meetings.

“It’s just not discussed enough, and the urgency of it is just not taught enough,” said Dante Castellano, another one of the students in 350NH. “If there was more climate education, people would probably be talking about it more.”

With support of sponsors Rep. Wendy Thomas, D-Merrimack, and Rep. Tony Caplan, D-Henniker —who are both members of the Science, Technology, and Energy Committee—the youth activists put together the House Resolution. The resolution itself, HR30, would not directly change public school curriculum, but it does encourage changes to environmental and climate education, including the following:

  1. An acknowledgment that human activities have caused a crisis we are working to solve today.
  2. A balanced historical background on the innovations that led to the discovery and use of fossil fuels, wind, solar, energy, efficiency, and the related benefits or costs to society; and;
  3. Social implications of climate change, including health impacts, economic impacts, redlining, environmental racism, migration of animals and people, urban planning, sea level rise in cities, and political and economic discourse.
  4. Information about direct solutions to climate change and how we all play a role.

One of the core components of the students’ argument is the idea of enhanced “climate literacy,” or what they defined as “understanding your influence on climate and climate’s influence on you and society.”

Current New Hampshire public school curricula on climate change are derived from the Next Generation Science Standards, adopted in 2014. While the standards do address climate change, such as “monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment” and to “ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century,” the 350NH team sees serious gaps in the larger implications of the climate crisis.

Taylor Barry, a high school senior who is an active member of the 350NH team, said current “curriculum doesn’t touch upon the socioeconomic implications of climate change.”

The students repeatedly emphasized that a renewed, more up-to-date climate education would mean New Hampshire’s students are better prepared to face climate change’s impacts in the future—not only mitigating their anxiety, but also opening up possibilities for new careers in renewable energy and sustainability efforts.

Rep. Glenn Cordelli, R-Tuftonboro, questioned the idea of climate anxiety when Rep. Thomas introduced the resolution.

“It seems to me that we have all done quite a bit to cause climate change anxiety in our young people,” Cordelli said. “Don’t you think that we all have caused climate-related anxiety in our students which is part of the so-called mental health crisis in our schools?”

Thomas responded that the students are anxious not because of what others are saying, but because of the changes they themselves are witnessing in their environment.

“These students are smart,” Thomas said. “They’re seeing that we just went through a winter with no snow. They’re seeing that our summers are wetter now.”

Elisabeth Bialosky, the Youth Campaign Organizer for 350NH and a former educator, said her former students were expressing growing climate anxiety over the years.

“Most of the things that my students were saying were contributing to anxiety were things that they could see and feel,” Bialosky said. Many of those students came from farming families, Bialosky said, who witnessed parents lose business and the depleting food supply with the changing climate.

Bialosky testified that New Hampshire as a whole will benefit from the education that comes with this resolution.

“One of the benefits of HR30 is the outcome of youth staying in New Hampshire to do green jobs,” Bialosky said, “which benefits New Hampshire’s local economy and also helps retain our youth population which we’ve seen as a growing problem.”

Eden Goodman, a high school senior, told the committee that upon reflecting on her education before graduating, she realized her environmental classes were lacking in comparison to an environmental internship she completed. She said she was taught to “turn the lights off” when leaving a room and the role of recycling.

“Beyond this, I had the understanding that environmental issues could only be tackled by adults with political power,” Goodman said. “Realizing that climate change will affect my generation far more than those currently in office, all I could do was hope that someday, someone in my generation would be able to tackle these issues.”

Goodman testified that these changes to education will enable students “to one day combat environmental issues as the engineers, scientists, and politicians that have the power and means to do so.”

Sarah Weintraub, a high school senior, confirmed that climate anxiety is rampant among herself and her peers.

“As children, our fears are often regarded as irrational by adults,” Weintraub said. “However, this fear is rational, and it’s very real.”

Rep. Valerie McDonnell, R-Salem, questioned Weintraub about considering other sides of the climate change discussion in education, asking her how “all sides” should be discussed.

Weintraub responded that she firmly believes climate change is real—as long as teachers stick to the science and data, there shouldn’t be a problem, she said.

“If there’s something for the youth of America to be educated on, it’s climate change,” Weintraub said.

Beyond legislative action, the 350NH youth team has been attending school board meetings in their free time to encourage the adoption of a more developed climate and environmental curriculum. In December, they spoke before the Merrimack School Board to address their thoughts about an “outdated” climate change curriculum, introducing arguments they brought to the Education Committee.

At the Merrimack School Board meeting, Rep. Thomas expressed the pride she felt for the students of 350NH.

“Gen Z is rising,” Thomas said. “They want a seat at the table, and they want to be heard.”

If New Hampshire incorporates the proposed changes, the resolution states that legislators, in collaboration with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Environmental Services, would “work collaboratively to compile and disseminate robust climate education curricula to school districts so that teachers may be prepared to implement climate change education in their classrooms in high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools.”

Ani Freedman is a contract reporter with InDepthNH.org. She is a recent graduate from Columbia Journalism School with a passion for environmental, health, and accountability reporting. In her free time, she’s an avid runner and run coach. She can be reached at anifreedmanpress@gmail.com

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