Environmental advocates push sustainability for high schools


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Eleanor Marshall loves the environment — but she didn't always feel that way.

"When I was a lot younger, I didn't used to be interested in environmental issues," said Marshall, a senior at Iowa City West High. "My sister came home one day from school and wanted to police our shower lengths and just our whole lifestyle was under attack, and I got this real first-hand exposure."

Marshall is now co-president of the West High EcoCentric club, which advocates for sustainability and environmental issues. She and fellow club members, working alongside the Iowa City branch of national environmental group Summer of Solutions, developed Focus the Classroom this year to try to integrate sustainability in the district high-school curriculum.

The two groups hosted a series of speakers at City High and West High on Thursday highlighting Focus the Classroom and other sustainability initiatives.

Officials said they hope the event is a steppingstone to further environmental science education at the high school level.

"Each high school has an environmental focus group, but I think every school could use a little bit more of a push," said Bailee McClellan, a Summer of Solutions project leader. "I'm hoping that this will kind of be the steppingstone to encourage students to get involved."

Many group members said they hope district high schools will add the supplemental education into the curriculum.

"I think that with certain issues and the bigger cultural trends, I think [environmental sciences] should be not only a subject in the Iowa Core requirements, it needs to be a class that is required so that students understand the impact in the community, " said Zach Gruenhagen, a program leader for Summer of Solutions.

Marshall said developing these subjects could be as easy as inserting the supplemental lesson plans into the curriculum.

"It's sort of hard to create a whole new class," she said. "Just getting a unit you can insert into a class that already exists is a really good and important way to increase environmental education."

During the Focus the Classroom event, local sustainability officials spoke and encouraged teachers to use the lesson plans compiled last year by Summer of Solutions to supplement the education.

Liz Christiansen, the director of the UI Office of Sustainability, said speaking to the students is important because it provides a new perspective to a new generation.

"I think it's important for students to see what's happening on campuses and how young people are getting involved and helping change happen," she said.

Marshall said transforming the curriculum is just one step to increase sustainability efforts.

"Sustainability is not a club you just go to after school, it's not just gardening — it's the way we need to live our world," she said.

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