Iowa City promotes environmental education in local high schools

Focus often eludes high school students with seven different classes covering seven different subjects and too much homework to jam in their backpacks at the end of the day – but on Thursday, April 5, EcoCentric and Envirocity, environmental clubs at two Iowa City high schools, teamed up with Iowa City Summer of Solutions to concentrate class discussions on one issue: the environment.

The daylong event, Focus the Classroom, encouraged teachers to relate the subjects they teach to current environmental issues. Last summer, Zach Gruenhagen, Bailey McClellan and Noelle Waldschmidt from the Iowa City solutionary team worked to complete a website with sustainability-focused lesson plans for every subject area, to help teachers more easily integrate the environment into their classes. In addition, presentations ran all day from environmental leaders in the Iowa City community, including Tim Dwight – a Iowa City High graduate and former professional football player.

Dwight, a popular speaker at both high schools, co-founded a renewable energy company called Integrated Power Corporation after retiring from the San Diego Chargers. At the Focus the Classroom event, he gave presentations extolling the virtues of solar energy.

“This shift [to renewable energy] that I’m going to talk about is your generational shift, and it’s going to be massive. Producing energy with wind and solar will change the world because those resources are available anywhere, and you’re going to see it,” he told students at West High school.

Dwight was joined by others including New Pioneer Co-op Outreach and Education coordinator Scott Koepke, Iowa City recycling coordinator Jen Jordan and University of Iowa Director of Sustainability Liz Christiansen. The speakers brought everything from live red wriggler worms to a battery-powered experiment that converted salt water into bleach. In a presentation at City High, teacher Mike Loots turned the students loose and after ten minutes, students from miscellaneous classes, with varying investment in sustainability, were almost all raising their hands to share an idea – from a trash clean up by the mall, to more vegan options at lunch, to guerilla gardening.

“A lot of times, as much as teachers try to bring in outside applications of what we’re studying, it’s really nice that we can see how to take what we’re learning and apply it to the world around us. You can actually go out and change things … and Focus the Classroom really reminds us of that,” said West High senior Javier Miranda-Bartlett, a member of EcoCentric and participant in the day’s activities.

According to Miranda-Bartlett, the message definitely reached the students in attendance.

“[My favorite part was seeing] the enthusiasm my classmates had for the whole concept and just how they actually got pumped, which surprised me. Also, [I loved] discovering that we have this wealth of resources of really knowledgeable people that are willing to help and work with us, and it was really empowering,” Miranda-Bartlett said.

Check out this video for a little background on past & current ICSOS work. Thanks to Nathan Meyer for his awesome video skills!

Applications for ICSOS are still open! Apply at – we’re looking for help with our local garden and energy efficiency campaigns!

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