Supriya Kotagal reclaimed her time in an airport to send us these beautiful images and update from her fellowship. Supriya used a Fund for Teachers grant to explore the methodology and best practices of community-based efforts in the Maldives and Solomon Islands to mobilize youth in island nations and Brooklyn confronting climate change.
“My hope,” she wrote in her proposal, “hope is that my fellowship experience will enable me to leverage both of these foci as my students engage in their design thinking work. Ultimately, I hope that ideas generated in my classroom around climate change can begin to be applied to the pressing issues that impact the neighborhood our school serves. I hope to mobilize my own students to be natural drivers of change in their community by creating a student advisory board or governing organization with my colleagues where youth weigh in on key problems and solutions that can better their neighborhood and school experience.”
Read more about her learning that will precede student advocacy.
As I type this, I am at the airport in Abu Dhabi waiting for my connecting flight to take be back to New York City. I think this is probably the perfect time to reflect on the experience and provide you with some closing thoughts and some of my favorite videos from my time abroad:
Through my Fund for Teachers fellowship, I set out to document the impact climate change is having on small island developing states in the Indian Ocean – specifically the Maldives
and Zanzibar. Providing tangible examples of how climate change is impacting ecosystems and people is incredibly important to me as a science educator. We are living in a time when the impacts of climate change are deemed “debatable” by some and my goal was to make this environmental crisis as tangible as possible for my students. I did this by collecting qualitative data in the form of interviews, photographs, and film clips in order to create “Country Kits” that will enable my seventh graders to explore climate change more deeply. As part of my “Country Kits” I am also producing several mini-documentaries that help explain different environmental issues and innovative solutions I encountered along the way.
Another aspect of my fellowship was to explore sustainable, community-based efforts that empower youth to tackle the very real challenges of climate change and to use this information to engage my students in thinking more globally about the environment. In the Maldives, I partnered with a sea turtle rehabilitation center called Naifaru Juvenile which seeks to spread awareness about the endangered sea turtle population and create sustainable solutions to protecting beaches and improving waste management–both environmental issues that stem from climate change and directly impact the sea turtle population. I met some amazing young activists who helped organize and participate in a festival bringing awareness to their local community. I was able to interview young people who are developing ways to improve environmental outcomes in their community. One young woman I met started a fashion line where she develops bags and purses from the trash she finds on the beach!
Read more about Supriya’s learning on her blog.
In Zanzibar, I explored how the country’s seaweed industry is being impacted by rising ocean temperatures. I met with a seaweed scientist and attended a community festival aimed at promoting the local development of seaweed products as a way of providing supplemental income to seaweed farmers, the majority of whom are women and who have seen recent declines in profit because of climate change. I also met with a collective of female seaweed farmers who are trying to create innovative products from the seaweed they cultivate in order to support their families. Additionally, I formed a valuable partnership with a youth organization called Zanzibar Learning 4 Life that seeks to encourage young people to become environmentally engaged and develop sustainable solutions to the problems that affect their community. I learned of some amazing work and ideas young people are formulating including using discarded plastic water bottles as bricks for water tanks. I hope to develop a deeper partnership with this organization in my classroom and am working on creating a pen-pal partnership between my students and theirs.
I wanted to share with you two mini-documentaries I made. The first [above] explains the seaweed industry in Zanzibar and the changes female farmers are making there in the face of climate change to maintain a profit. The second shares the perspective of youth on the island of Naifaru, the Maldives on the environmental issues impacting sea turtles and what needs to be done.
Thanks again for such an amazing opportunity. I can’t tell you how valuable this experience has been in re-energizing my passion for this work.
(photo below of a group of young girls getting ready to dance at the youth-led “Turtle Festival” in Naifaru, the Maldives)
Supriya, middle school teacher at The School at Columbia University, is a curriculum designer, consultant and educator who has been involved in the field of education for ten+ years. She was a 2007 Teach for America Corps Member, a New York Hall of Science Design Fellow & Master Teacher, a New York Public Library Cullman Fellow in Creative Writing and currently teaches a STEAM* science course in New York City. Through her experiences, she understands education to be a powerful and transformative tool in uplifting individuals and communities.