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$494,000 GRANT TO HELP WILD CENTER BUILD CLIMATE LITERACY IN NEW YORK: Science center and partners receive three-year NOAA award to work in North Country, downstate

TUPPER LAKE – A $494,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will support The Wild Center as it helps students and teachers in New York City, the Catskills and the Adirondacks respond to climate change in their communities.

The three-year Environmental Literacy Grant bolsters a collaboration of The Wild Center, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Delaware County, the Kurt Hahn Expeditionary Learning School in Brooklyn, and the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE) as they build climate literacy and preparedness among nearly 1,000 students and teachers.

As part of the project, called Convening Young Leaders for Climate Resilience in New York State, high schoolers will learn to assess the effect climate change is likely to have on their communities, work on techniques to convey those impacts to others, and develop the leadership skills needed to shape localized solutions to resiliency challenges posed by the issue.

“It’s critical for students to learn about climate change—but studies are clear that education alone isn’t enough to lead to action,” said Stephanie Ratcliffe, executive director of The Wild Center. “We also need to empower students to help their communities prepare for the changes that are likely to affect them.”

The grant was one of two awarded this year from NOAA’s Environmental Literacy Program, which supports education programs that use NOAA science to improve ecosystem stewardship and increase resilience to environmental hazards. The following activities will be supported over the 3½-year course of the project:

  • Each region will host a pair of Youth Climate Summits, one to two-day events that will attract 150-180 students.
  • Teacher Climate Institutes will engage and empower teachers to feel confident about teaching climate science in their classroom by providing tools, resources and strategies.
  • Selected students will participate in a Youth Climate Leadership Practicum that will focus specifically on leadership skills such as communication, project management, decision-making and problem-solving.
  • Youth leaders will host community outreach events.

While today’s youth are the generation most likely to be called upon to mitigate the impacts of climate change, a Yale survey indicates they’ve had little exposure to the issue, with just 25 percent of high school students demonstrating a basic understanding of climate change. Nor are they studying it in the classroom: Just 22 percent of students say they’re learning “a lot” about the subject at school.

To improve climate education in schools, the project will work with teachers as well as students to develop a Teacher Climate Institute.

“Teachers are so important to establishing awareness about climate change,” said Jen Kretser, director of The Wild Center’s Youth Climate Summit Initiative. “We know they want to incorporate climate change into the curriculum, but are limited in the resources they have to learn about it themselves. By establishing a Teacher Climate Institute, we’ll put educators in direct contact with leading climate experts, so they can build their own knowledge on the topic and bring the discussion into their classrooms.”

While all of New York State will face urgent climate change-related challenges, every community’s response to the issue will differ. In urban areas, for instance, rising temperatures may exacerbate respiratory diseases such as asthma. In more rural places, such as the Adirondacks and Catskills, decreased snowfall might impact winter tourism.

“Addressing the challenges of climate change is among Governor Cuomo’s highest environmental priorities,” said New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos. “Our strategy for fighting climate change is dependent on a well-informed, involved public. The Youth Climate Summits and associated outreach will provide experience and tools that participants can immediately apply in their schools and communities. Perhaps more importantly, they will begin to empower today’s youth to become the engaged, knowledgeable and hopeful adults New York will need to meet tomorrow’s challenges.”

The DEC’s Office of Climate Change will join the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and NOAA’s Climate Program to contribute scientific information, resources and tools to the project, helping ensure that it conveys the latest knowledge and reflects statewide goals.

“The fight against climate change is one of the highest priorities for Governor Cuomo and New York,” said NYSERDA President and CEO Alicia Barton. “This project not only raises awareness of climate change but prepares today’s students to be tomorrow’s leaders and help communities be more resilient.”

Since 2008, The Wild Center has worked with over a thousand high school and college students as well as teachers across the region, building climate action plans students can implement in their own schools and communities. The work has garnered national and international notice. Over the past few years, the Youth Climate Summit model has been replicated in places such as Seattle, Detroit, Finland and Sri Lanka.

“The best part about this work has been watching young leaders get excited about realizing they can do something about this crisis we’re all facing,” Ratcliffe said. “And it’s exciting to know we’ll be working with even more students going forward. They have the optimism, they have the will, they have new and fresh solutions, and they have the hope.”

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