by Patrick McShea
During the last three days of July more than 330 educators from across the country gathered virtually to learn how to more effectively teach about a topic generating increasingly alarming headlines. The event, titled Summer Institute for Climate Change Education, operated with three principle hosts, Climate Generation, a St. Paul, Minnesota-based educational organization with a national reach, the Youth Climate Program of The Wilds Center in New York’s Adirondack State Park, and the Climate Office of NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
On the middle day of the Institute, participants remotely joined one of a dozen sub-region programs for a more local focus on discussions, resource sharing, and reviews of potential classroom activities. Pittsburgh was the center of one such sub-region, and the host for our region’s day-long program was Katie Modic, Executive Director of a small and innovative organization known as Communitopia.
Communitopia is a 12-year-old organization, whose ongoing efforts to slow climate change and create healthier communities through new media and project-based campaigns have been distilled into a three-word mission statement, “Making Green Mainstream.” The 501©3 nonprofit operation is well served by the experience Katie brings to her leadership position. She is a University of Wisconsin-Madison alumni (M.S. in Education, B.A. in Spanish and Anthropology), whose work experience since graduation includes a two-year Teach for America middle school assignment along the US/Mexico border in Donna, Texas, public school teaching experience in Colorado and Florida, international teaching experience in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and the sharing of many of her first hand learning experiences with undergraduate education students as a professor at Central College in Pella, Iowa.
In planning the day’s schedule, Katie worked with staff from both Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens and Carnegie Museum of Natural History. In carrying out her role as a Zoom screen host for a territory that encompassed nearly all of Pennsylvania, she was able to direct attention to the revision of Pennsylvania’s academic standards for science as a current issue relevant in every corner of the state.
Katie’s position that the standards revision process creates an opportunity to strengthen how climate is addressed in both Science Standards and those for Environment and Ecology is outlined on Communitopia’s website. During the Summer Institute she was able to explain how her opportunity observations were largely based upon her experience in working with students at Woodland Hills High School in Pittsburgh’s eastern suburbs. When biology teacher Margeaux Everhart invited Katie to present Communitopia’ s classroom program about the local impacts of climate change, the session sparked a student-driven grassroots movement that eventually led to the Woodland Hills School District adopting a formal Climate Action Plan.
For many of the educators who participated in the Pittsburgh-based day of Summer Institute programs, watching and listening as some of those students made Zoom speaking appearances was an inspiring and empowering experience.
Patrick McShea works in the Education and Visitor Experience department of Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Museum employees are encouraged to blog about their unique experiences and knowledge gained from working at the museum.
Carnegie Museum of Natural History Blog Citation InformationBlog author: McShea, Patrick
Publication date: September 7, 2021