June 20, 2023
While we often share our teams’ success stories, we also want to share some of the in-process stories, even stories that might feel at the moment like a failure, because that’s how change is built. For Claire and the For Our Kids Alberta team, the work to bring climate education to schools is one of those stories, and it’s not yet over.
As a mom and former teacher, raising kids in Calgary, AB, Claire has been worried about the gap between politicians and industry and the curriculum that she believes kids need to be able to navigate their future. While wildfire smoke and air quality have been issues in Alberta for years, Claire worries that the response in schools is inconsistent: in the Edmonton Public Schools, classrooms are equipped with HEPA filters that provide some additional protection against wildfire smoke, but in the Calgary Board of Education, that is not the case. But her concern is not only about the immediate health impacts of pollution and climate change, it is also about the longer-term implications of what they’re learning, or not.
Claire says, “I want my kids and their peers to know that they could be part of the solution. I want them to have the knowledge, skills, and attributes to be able to navigate the largest societal transformation that we’ve seen since the industrial revolution.”
Last fall, Claire learned that the Alberta School Councils’ Association (the organization that represents parents on school councils to engage with the Ministry of Education), was looking for resolutions to present at their AGM. She decided to put forward a resolution to integrate climate and biodiversity education into all levels of the K to 12 curriculum in Alberta. The emphasis would be on incorporating hands-on learning experiences with a focus on critical thinking, climate justice, equity, and Indigenous rights.
The first step was to have the proposal pass her own kids’ school council – which it did with over 80 percent voting in favour. With the approval of her school council, Claire then sent the Policy Advocacy Resolution (PAR) to ASCA’s executive director where it was presented to their committee and was approved to go forward at the annual general meeting in April. Finally, on April 23rd of 2023, Claire presented her PAR at the ASCA’s annual general meeting. She was among six parents presenting a variety of motions, and she had three minutes to speak to her motion before it was discussed and debated. There was little opportunity to counter some of the misconceptions that arose and this left Claire feeling frustrated. Some parents at the AGM expressed worry that climate education would mean talking badly about a particular industry and in the end, Claire’s motion did not pass; there was a total of 115 votes with 47 voting in favour and 68 opposed.
Claire was very disappointed with this result. Yet, things have changed in the two months since, and she has renewed energy for this fight, and some different ways to approach it.
First, she received an email from another parent at the AGM, a dad who lives and farms in a very conservative part of the province, who understands the perspective of the oil and gas industry, and who is in support of climate education. He and Claire have been helping each other understand the context and the possibilities for change. Claire says, “Everybody has a story of why they voted yes. I wonder if that vote had taken place now, after this horrible month and a half of smoke and wildfires, what the result would be. I wonder if a seed was planted.”
She has also connected with Adriene, a new member of the Alberta For Our Kids team, who is a teacher on maternity leave. They now have a chance to focus their call for climate justice education on teachers as well as parents. Together, Adriene and Claire are working to encourage the Alberta Teachers’ Association to feature climate justice education in an upcoming issue of the ATA Magazine which is distributed to schools across the province. Adriene is planning a proposal to the ATA and has approached her principal with the idea of working with her school to become an EcoSchool. Claire also wants to see school boards stepping up, rather than downloading climate action to students. “We need leadership from the top,” she says, and this needs to come from the province. In the meantime, she’s committed to being a parent “pushing from the bottom.”