Grueling hours spent writing lesson plans, arranging schedules and logistics, and purchasing materials—teaching isn’t always the most glamorous job. Jaime Bunting, education manager at Pickering Creek Audubon Center in Easton, Maryland, has six years of experience as an environmental educator and expects the hard work associated with the job. She never anticipated, though, that her work would bring her to President Obama’s home. Earlier this year, she was invited to join about 200 climate change stewards, environmental educators, and students from all over the country at the Back-to-School Climate Education Event at the White House. The event centered on the role of climate education in a rapidly changing world and featured a panel of high school and college students fighting climate change.
Bunting and fellow Pickering Creek educator Krysta Hougen were invited in recognition of their climate education work, including a curriculum they created and launched in 2014: “Carbon Footprints, Carbon Sinks and Carbon Stewardship.” The program—developed as part of the yearlong NOAA Climate Stewards Education Project—taught fifth-graders at Easton Elementary School how climate change affects local wildlife in the Chesapeake Bay area, specifically waterfowl.
The students researched global warming’s effects on waterfowl habitats; crafted models of Great Egrets, Wood Ducks, and other animals from discarded materials such as milk jugs, juice cartons, and Styrofoam; and created exhibits explaining the importance of native plants as carbon sinks. The class shared their projects at Easton’s Waterfowl Festival, which draws tens of thousands of visitors.
The curriculum also encourages young people to take action. Students calculate their classroom’s carbon footprint at the beginning and end of the lessons—in 2014, every class’s footprint decreased, says Bunting. Students then sign a pledge to continue reducing their footprint in the classroom as well as at home with their families. Because of the program’s success, Pickering Creek is planning to implement it in other schools across the county.
Pickering Creek staff has also been working with teachers in Talbot County to incorporate climate change workshops and labs into the sixth grade science curriculum, focusing on wetlands and their role in a healthy environment. The program culminates with a spring field trip to Pickering Creek, where students don rubber boots and plant native species such as sedges, marsh hibiscus, and monkey flower in the center’s restored freshwater wetlands.
Bunting says she was honored to represent Audubon among the diverse group of advocates and educators who attended the White House event. “It is so easy to get wrapped up with what you are doing in your specific community, center, or school,” says Bunting. “So it was great to hear about all the wonderful things that are happening across the country.”