By Lauren Schiffman, Contributing Writer
Westborough – As news of climate change becomes more urgent by the day, one Westborough educator is doing something about it. In addition to developing a climate change curriculum for National Geographic, she is developing a curriculum for Westborough Public Schools.
Maeve Hitzenbuhler, English Language Education Director, PK-12, was selected as a Grosvenor Fellow with National Geographic. As a Fellow, she was afforded the opportunity to travel to Antarctica for two weeks to study climate change with National Geographic geologists, naturalists and scientists.
While in Antarctica this past November, Hitzenbuhler, “was blown away” by what she saw. The icebergs, she said, tell the long history of climate change.
“I had never seen blues like that before,” she said.
Her travels brought the group past an 86-mile long iceberg the size of Delaware that told the story of sea levels rising around the world over thousands of years.
“As we went through the ice in western Antarctica, the ship leader talked about not getting as far as they went the previous year because of the ice melt. That is incredibly significant,” Hitzenbuhler said.
The group also studied penguin blood and the effects of microplastics on the penguin population.
“Antarctica is pristine. If the problem we have with microplastics goes (there), we see how much climate change was affecting them. It was fascinating,” she said.
The group learned that due to Antarctica’s rising temperatures, the penguin population is decreasing.
Hitzenbuhler said she “always wanted to learn about how to explain to children how to protect their world.”
Upon her return to Westborough, Hitzenbuhler began discussions about bringing the climate change curriculum to district students.
She added that rather than instill or create fear, she hopes to instill a greater appreciation of climate change. She is currently developing an age-appropriate, interdisciplinary curriculum.
“It will broaden their horizons and give them a greater appreciation of climate change.”
An analytics toolbox will utilize the art of the iceberg. For example, students will study how icebergs differ from each other and what healthy icebergs look like.
“In Mill Pond [School], kids are getting more active in terms of climate. Antarctica is one more piece of the puzzle for them in deciphering what they can do to help repair the world,” she said.
One kindergarten lesson she taught about penguins included a call-in from a National Geographic naturalist who presented from Antarctica. Students appreciated the beauty of the penguins and were interested in how they build nests.
She added that when children begin to understand the science behind climate change and life on Antarctica, they can identify ways to fight climate change.
“Our dream is that our high school kids can do internships and study climate change’s relationship to Antarctica and how those changes affect their own world,” Hitzenbuhler said. This can be accomplished by looking at snowfall rates and coastline erosion, for example.
One way through which students can foster change is by studying the waste we collectively create here, at home. For example, she hopes that students will take the lead on addressing plastics in the cafeterias and how they can make their school and home environments more sustainable.
Advocacy is another component of the curriculum.
“We have it within ourselves to use our voices and our votes at the ballot box. We need to make lawmakers listen,” Hitzenbuhler said.
Westborough teachers will also be part of the learning process. They will undergo training on how to articulate climate change to students without creating alarm. To ensure that students understand that they are not helpless, a trauma specialist has advised on proper language use that will encourage students to advocate on their own behalf.
Hitzenbuhler hopes that the curriculum in Westborough will be ready towards the end of the school year.
“We have teachers who are very interested in bringing the world into the classroom,” she noted.
“We need to be able to have agency and advocacy and some control over our environment and our world. We shouldn’t have to worry about climate change happening. We are obligated to save our world.”