Grade 7 Sustainability Night: Students Address the Challenges of Climate Change

Climate change can seem like an intractable challenge—but not to Grade 7 students at Rivers. For Sustainability Night, which took place just before spring break, the focus is on solutions, and the students dove in with aplomb, coming up with creative suggestions ranging from rooftop gardens to 3D-printed devices to air-filter drones to stratospheric aerosol injection planes.

“Over a nine-week period, students researched an area of the world and a climate change issue of interest to them,” explained Grade 7 science teacher Kayley Pettoruto. “They investigated the causes and effects and possible solutions to their climate-change issue. Students had the opportunity to show their learning in a number of ways: scientific writing, posters, three-dimensional models, and web design.”

All of those techniques were on display at the Sustainability Night event on March 7. After a brief introduction by students in the Lewis common area, attendees followed an “around the world” itinerary. At stations scattered throughout Haynes (South America, Asia, and Antarctica), Prince (North America), and Allen (Europe, Africa, and Australia), students in formal dress stood ready to explain their projects to the parents and professional-community members in attendance. 

Lexie Keel ’29 had chosen Barcelona for her research. “It’s one of the most dense cities in the world,” she explained, and rising temperatures are creating problems ranging from flooding to drought. Her solution? Rooftop gardens that can help mitigate the excess production of carbon dioxide and release more oxygen into the air. Keel had constructed a model apartment building topped with greenery to illustrate her solution. 

Fiona Fonte ’29 took a look at air pollution in New Delhi. “I picked Delhi, but air pollution can be anywhere,” she said. She came up with a filter drone that can take to the skies and scour the air, without itself contributing to the problem. 

In Antarctica, Miles Poindexter ’29 told attendees, the greenhouse effect is causing ice melt, which has numerous implications: “Penguins lose their homes, and we can’t study Antarctic ice, and sea levels rise.” A 3D-printed water turbine, he proposed, could power ships in the region as an alternative to fossil fuels.
One goal of the sustainability unit, separate from the content of the projects themselves, is to help students feel comfortable presenting their ideas to an audience. The event takes place over the course of 90 minutes, and during that time, students must describe their projects multiple times and answer probing questions, requiring them to think on their feet. “For many students,” said Pettoruto, “this is their first time presenting in front of multiple small groups of adults for over an hour. We wanted students to practice their presentation skills. In general, Rivers gives students lots of opportunities to practice those skills. I think our students walk away from middle school with a strong skill set in this area, thanks to the practice they get across disciplines.”

Climate change can be a difficult topic to address. Through the course of the project,  the students become keenly aware of the challenges and delve deeply into the root problems, but the unit is also designed to inspire creativity and optimism. “One of the goals is hope over despair,” said Pettoruto. “Students realize that science is powerful and there are lots of scientific possibilities for solutions worldwide. Ultimately, students gained a global perspective on climate change through the exploration of some of the most pressing environmental issues of our time and their impacts around the world.”
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