By Giselle Serafin
Smoke from the 2020 California wildfires. Photo: NASA
Throughout the devastating 2020 fire season in California and beyond, students felt the direct impact of extreme poor air quality in real time. This experience brought up a lot of questions, curiosity, and concerns about the impact of air pollution on themselves, their families, and their communities.
In January SEI worked with 7th grade science classes at Black Diamond Middle School in Antioch, California to bring SEI’s Air Quality curriculum to their classes. Through this curriculum, students are introduced to air quality science, air quality monitoring the intersection of air quality and environmental justice, and air quality policy. To make the classroom content more engaging, students learn about local air quality issues and solutions employed by nearby community organizers. Wrapping up their air quality lessons, these students were guided through an action planning project to help improve the air quality in their community.
After Black Diamond students completed their air quality project, SEI followed up with a survey to understand what they took away from learning about air quality and its impact on their community. When asked “Do you believe that as an individual, you have the ability to reduce air pollution? Why or why not?,” students responded with a nuanced understanding of the roles of individuals, communities, and professionals in implementing air pollution reduction strategies. Although students were ready to take on individual actions like biking or carpooling, many also noted that it is up to everyone to take part in change. Here are some student reflections on the question:
“As an individual, I cannot reduce air pollution enough for it to help the community and Earth. But as a community, our chances are much higher”
“I do believe that I have the power to reduce air pollution. I believe this because an individual such as myself can come up with ideas to reduce pollution, and then share those ideas with the community.”
“Yes, because there are jobs that can help. You can go to college and major in this type of stuff.”
“Yes I do, I can help step by step and help make a difference if I encourage others to do the same!”
Students also reflected on the question “Why is air pollution a concern in your community?” Students from Antioch shared their experiential knowledge that factories, wildfires, and transportation are major contributors to poor air quality in their community. Common responses were around health impacts of air pollution, such as lung and cardiovascular damage.
112 students responded to the survey. Below are graphs showing student responses to the following statements “I make an effort to be knowledgeable about air pollution issues” and “I am interested in reducing air pollution.” 72% of students agreed with the statement “I am interested in reducing air pollution.”
Summary of responses to student evaluation survey
Although there are many inspiring youth climate activists for our students to look to, it is important for them to understand that not all of the burden for solutions falls on them. Individual actions are important, but showcasing community change that is already happening is essential to instill hope for students. Black Diamond Middle School’s students showed deep care for their community in their reflections, thinking bigger than themselves. They displayed their hope that with community involvement positive change can happen.
Learn more about SEI's curriculum offerings or request the air quality curriculum here.
The SEI Team
Environmental education and workforce development experts share stories from the field