Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 21, 2024

Students teach sustainability to local school

By Ellen Brait | November 1, 2012

The Barclay Environmental Justice Program teaches middle schoolers at Barclay Elementary/Middle School how to be environmentally responsible. A group of approximately seven Hopkins students visits the school twice a week on Wednesdays and Thursdays. The group instructs the kids on an array of topics, ranging from endangered species to recycling.

Junior Cognitive Science major Miura Hawkins is one of the organizers of the program. The entire program started when she was a freshman.

“There was a woman named Gia Grier, she still works at the CSC (the Hopkins Center for Social Concern) now,” Hawkins said. “She started the program. I think she was just talking with one of the administrators at Barclay Elementary, and they decided it would be a good idea.”

Grier attracted Hopkins students to the program through advertising in the student announcements. She hoped that students would share her belief that the upcoming generation would have to tackle great environmental issues in the future. Luckily, a group of around seven students shared her vision and enrolled in the program.

“Cognizance at such a young age will prepare the students well for what’s in store,” junior Neuroscience major Steven Park said.

Over time, the program has grown and evolved. Grier worked with Hopkins students until she found them fully capable of running the organization entirely on their own. Now, Environmental Justice is a completely student-run group. The program members currently visit the school twice a week rather than once a week, as they did in previous years.

“Originally it was all sixth graders who came to this free period, and they got to choose which elective they wanted to do,” Hawkins said.

Over the years, the number of students they work with has changed. The program is now fully established, and Environmental Justice now works with three different classes. One group of students works with one particular class every week so that the students work with the same program members every week, and relationships can be formed.

“My favorite part is talking with the kids,” Freshman Global Environmental Change and Sustainability major Raphaelle Ortiz said. “I really enjoy finding out their stories. They’re really nice.”

The program members ensure that the lessons challenge the Barclay students.

“We raise the bar because students are bright, and also teachers at Barclay want to see their students challenged,” Park said.

A broad range of topics are covered throughout the year, such as car emissions, livestock, water conservation and recycling.

This year, the program plans to focus on recycling in particular, since it serves as an easy way for Barclay students to give back to the environment. The Environmental Justice program seeks to demonstrate to students that they can impact the environment, especially in small ways, such as choosing greener forms of transportation.

For example, the lesson plan for this week’s class covered alternative fuels. Various fuels were listed — from gasoline to biodiesel — on the worksheet the kids from Barclay received, and students were asked to list the pros and cons for each one in terms of financial, environmental, lifestyle and accessibility issues.

While the content of the lessons is important, the group makes sure to keep in mind that they are teaching elementary students and ensures that lessons are interactive and fun.

The Hopkins students involved in this relatively new initiative are very enthusiastic about it.

“It’s really cool because I feel like we can actually make a difference,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins explained that she hadn’t realized that kids could not be aware of things like recycling and conserving more water, but it’s become evident throughout her three years in the program that there is a way to fix this. Hawkins explained that it was really refreshing to get a different perspective, as her elementary school was very different than any Baltimore public schools.

“It was very eye opening the first few times we went to the school,” Hawkins said. “I saw how lucky I was to have drinkable water, for example, in my school.”

Ortiz emphasized that teaching these lessons at a young age was important to her because she believes that it has a much stronger effect and really highlights what is important for children to know.

In terms of plans for the future, all of the members seem to have a similar goal: expansion. Whether expansion entails reaching a greater number of schools across Baltimore or increasing the number of classes within Barclay Elementary, Hopkins students want to help out even more than they are now.

“It would be cool if we could get more teachers to at least let us come once a month or something or maybe just one time,” Hawkins said.

Expanding the program’s members is also a goal. The program has been advertising more heavily and attempting to recruit new members. Thankfully, their attempts seem to be working.

“People are responding,” Ortiz said.

The Barclay Environmental Justice Program is growing as more students become aware of its presence on campus. While the program is currently small, program members believe the Environmental Justice program is highly rewarding.

“We do not boast a vast number of volunteers; it seems that not too many have great interest in what we do, or perhaps have other priorities,” Park said. “However, every member of Environmental Justice loves what he/she does every week.”

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