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NJ’s Public School Mandate to Teach Climate Change, Cooling Down with Trees

Posted May 5, 2023


New Jersey is the first, and so far only, state in the nation to require educators to teach climate change beginning in kindergarten, and across most subjects, including art, social studies, world languages, and even physical education.


Larry Koplik, chairman of the Montgomery Township Shade Tree Committee, with the newly crowned Mrs. New Jersey Raychelle Jackson, who lives in Montgomery Township. The committee planted a Willow Oak at the Arboretum on April 21 in honor of Arbor Day.


The standards went into effect in the fall, and are intended to “prepare students to understand how and why climate change happens, the impact it has on our local and global communities, and to act in informed and sustainable ways,” according to the NJ Department of Education website.


For example, a visual arts lesson plan may include the performance expectation that students’ analyze how art forms are used to reflect global issues, including climate change. A high school social studies class may include expectations that students analyze how technological developments transformed the economy, created international markets, and / or affected the environment.


A Focus on Planting Trees

Across the country, municipal leaders are seeing the benefits of trees in the fight against climate change. For years, Larry Koplik, the Montgomery Shade Tree Committee, and its volunteers have taught third graders at Village Elementary School about the importance of trees. Each student gets a sapling to plant.


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Koplik’s ongoing mission, in addition to teaching about the importance of trees, is to actually get the local schools to plant more trees on its campuses, particularly at the high school. “Trees provide beauty, of course, but they also provide energy-saving shade—and there certainly are a lot of hot and sunny parking lots and playgrounds at Montgomery’s schools.


“Trees reduce air pollution, flooding, and global warming. And, improve mental health. These benefits support the goal of implementing programs with the aim of “improving school climate (and stress) for all children.” Maybe a future “hands on” lesson could include students planting trees at school?

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