Environmental Justice in Primary School Science

By Leslie Jones-Wentz, Primary School Science & Health Education Teacher

In the Primary School Science classes, and particularly in the primary school environmental club, Eco-Team, students conduct research both digitally and in the field, watch videos, listen to speakers and learn about other women who are inspirational environmental champions and agents of change. This work lays a foundation that enables each girl to find her own voice and begin to advocate for what is important to her. How will she be an environmental champion?  What environmental issues are most important to her and how will she advocate for much needed change?

Units in the science curriculum, including related field trips and activities, provide primary school students with a framework for understanding climate change, native species, composting, planting, growing and harvesting nutritional food. They learn about food deserts, and other urban environmental issues. They also begin to grapple with big ideas such as needs versus wants, environmental stewardship and their own responsibilities and abilities to help the planet heal and thrive.

Place-based units additionally help students realize that the environment is right outside our science room windows, in our garden areas and all over our campus as well as in “wilder” places, designated parks and urban areas.

Students are able to contemplate some fundamental questions as stewards of the environment: do we have choices about what to plant and where? Should we use a reusable water bottle or plastic ones? Do we recycle? What about reusable shopping bags? What can we do to fight habitat destruction and maintain a knowledgeable voice in what gets planted or removed from a particular habitat, especially our own backyards? Can we provide safe habitats for the birds, insects and other wildlife that share our spaces?

Should we “leave the leaves” in the fall for overwintering insects? Or should we maintain carefully manicured yards and school grounds that, while visually appealing, might provide little ecological benefit?

The students who participate in the Eco-Team use all of the knowledge gained from the science curriculum and put it into action: they work to replace invasive species on campus with native ones; they volunteer for local cleanups; and they read and learn about best environmental practices before sharing their ideas in communal spaces and forums like bulletin boards, posters and in Morning Meeting presentations.

Primary School students and teachers participating in a local clean-up event

The girls can also listen to virtual talks by other women addressing all global injustices, environmental and otherwise. They can engage with figures like Greta Thunberg, founder of School Strike for Climate, Karen Washington, activist and urban farmer, Leah Thomas, Intersectional Environmentalist, and Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, founder of the How to Save a Planet podcast and co-editor of All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, a collection of essays by 60 women working in the climate space.  

Our students are beginning to understand that vulnerable and overburdened communities will be impacted greatly by the climate crisis. They know the importance of ethical environmental decision-making and the vitality of caring for their own places, participating in community service efforts, and making changes in their own lives to minimize their environmental impact. As they continue to grow and learn they are becoming better and more responsible advocates for both themselves and the environment in their communities and globally.