Our Neighbors: “Provincetown teacher creates positive climate for students”

Original post from Cape Cod Times – 

By Cynthia McCormick, Nov 3, 2019

Richard “Rick” Gifford, a teacher in the Provincetown Public Schools, has given himself one tough homework assignment: making the subject of climate change engaging and even fun for his middle school students.

“Kids are naturally kind,” said Gifford, 50, who recently won the Massachusetts Association of Science Teachers award for Barnstable County science educator of the year. “They’re naturally curious about the environment. They’re passionate. They care.”

“They’re aware (climate change) is a significant problem,” Gifford said. “It’s what you do about it — that’s the question.”

The association will honor Gifford and other award winners Dec. 6 at the Best Western Royal Plaza Hotel and Trade Center in Marlboro.

Gifford’s interest in the topic drove him to take a free online course this past summer to become certified as a climate teacher through EduCCate Global, which is a joint venture between the One UN Climate Change Learning Partnership and Harwood Education.

There are about 2,000 of these certified climate teachers around the world now, mostly in the United Kingdom, where Harwood Education is based, Gifford said. Gifford said he is one of a handful of certified teachers in the U.S., but he expects the numbers to grow as word about the program travels.

The curriculum involves learning about how climate change affects cities, children, health and legal systems, said Gifford, who is a design and STEAM teacher for sixth, seventh and eighth grades in the International Baccalaureate program at Provincetown Schools.

In teaching about climate change, Gifford goes where most U.S. educators fear to tread. Although most teachers want to address climate change, less than 50% attempt to do so in the classroom, according to an NPR/Ipsos poll released in time for Earth Day in April.

The classroom silence occurs despite the fact that more than 80% of U.S. parents and the majority of those polled — Republican or Democrat — agreed climate change should be taught in schools, according to the poll.

Teachers answering the poll listed several reasons for not touching on the subject, from lack of knowledge and materials to its lack of inclusion in the curriculum. In addition, some teachers feared getting complaints from parents.

Gifford said he hasn’t received any complaints from parents or other individuals about tackling climate change. He said he is careful to balance information about climate change “with the real solutions that are out there.”

Some of the solutions are as simple as planting trees, while others involve removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and returning it to depleted soils through a process called soil carbon sequestration.


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