New Jersey begins school year with new climate education standards

This year, New Jersey schools started teaching climate change as a part of the K-12 curriculum, becoming the first state in the nation to require climate education. This initiative started in June of 2020 and Governor Phil Murphy allocated $5 million to climate change education for the 2022-2023 fiscal year.

Murphy’s wife, Tammy, has been instrumental in the adoption of this curriculum, as she announced the new standards. She said that the purpose of the new curriculum is to prepare New Jersey students for “green economy” jobs and to help them become leaders in fighting the climate crisis. This initiative aligns with Murphy’s plans to make New Jersey 100 percent clean energy reliant by 2050.

The new climate change curriculum sets standards for grades K-12 in all subject areas, including non- STEM subjects like art, health, world languages and career readiness. Topics for grades 9-12 include analyzing government agencies’ response to climate change, evaluating and designing solutions to man-made climate change, using foreign language materials to observe the effects of climate change in foreign countries and creating computer-based data visualizations about the climate.

At WHS, these new lessons will bolster the climate change curriculum already covered in all science courses, especially in classes like Earth Science and Environmental Science. AP Environmental Science Teacher Judith McLoughlin is pleased to see this new development in the state curriculum. She said, “The fact that they have now included [climate change] into other classes and in the curriculum of other courses as a requirement means that teachers will need to add that to their curriculum. I think that is going to broaden and more comprehensively address the issue of climate change.”

Despite the support behind these standards, some believe that the new curriculum might not be enough of an effort to combat the effects of climate change. “I think the new climate change standards are really great steps forward to help people become aware of how quickly the rate of climate change is changing,” said Environmental Science Teacher Jeffrey Robbins. “I do think it will bring about change, but I think that rate of change will be slower than the rate of climate change so I am worried about that.”

Younger students will be introduced to climate change with more basic lessons, such as grades K-2 learning about the role of sunlight in warming Earth’s surface, grades 3-5 learning about natural disasters and climate change’s role in weather patterns and grades 6-8 learning about the parts of an ecosystem and how climate change can affect each part.

The effects of climate change are prevalent in Westfield, making this issue even more important to address. McLoughlin said, “While we’ve seen effects of [climate change] like the algae blooms at Mindowaskin [Park] and the increase in storms, understanding the science behind it, and the interconnectedness of global responses, solutions and problems is going to help people to have a more concrete and scientifically anchored understanding of the issue.”

Students also see the importance of the new curriculum. “I think it is important to learn about climate change and its effects on the environment because we are the generation that has to start the change,” said WHS senior Bella Panora. “We also are the generation that is going to start seeing the effects worsen. I hope the impact of learning about this topic will inspire people to change their actions and start caring for the environment.”

Whether or not the new climate education standards will bring about real change in New Jersey, or in the world, this new curriculum is a first step in reducing the negative effects of climate change, and is the first of its kind in America. With its adoption, New Jersey students of all ages will become some of the most educated in the nation on the issues of climate change and how to fix it.