Prove your humanity

Kayonia Sowell is one of the many Pennsylvania students who haven’t been taught about climate change in school.

She says she didn’t learn about climate change in elementary school, or in her three years at Pittsburgh Public Schools, where climate change is taught in-depth in 4th and 6th grades.  A climate change component was added to the district’s 9th grade biology curriculum this year. But Sowell, now in 10th grade, didn’t have those classes.

Here’s what she thinks about her climate education so far:

LISTEN to Kayonia’s radio essay


Did you learn about climate change in school? In a recent survey, 86 percent of teachers say children should learn about climate change, but less than half actually teach it. 

I’m going into 10th grade, and I haven’t been taught about climate change in my three years attending Pittsburgh Public Schools. I attended PPS Langley in 7th and 8th grades, and Brashear High School in 9th grade. I’m disappointed that no one educated me about climate change, and how it will impact the weather, human health, and even food. I talked to my parents about this:

Kayonia: Do you think I should learn about climate change in school?

Mom: Yes, absolutely. I think it’s beneficial later in life for kids to understand what’s going on [on] the earth, as well as off the earth. So they can basically put it all together, and put it in a concept where they can understand it, and they would know the reason why certain things are happening on earth.

Dad: Absolutely. I think it’s deplorable that they would rather teach you how to text than to teach about climate change. For y’all not to have this as part of y’all curriculum, it’s crazy.

I thought so too, so I called Pittsburgh Public Schools to find out how climate change is taught, but they didn’t get back to me in time to finish my essay. So I asked my middle school science teacher. She said she didn’t teach climate change. 

I only started to read about climate change since working this summer at The Allegheny Front. If I had known about it, I could have had a different outlook on things, like human health.

I want to be a surgeon, so I feel like that’s extremely important because people’s health can be impacted by global warming. When it gets too hot, breathing becomes a problem for me, and I know others who have the same problem. Heat can have an effect on mental and physical health. 

And it’s not just health, but agriculture, food security, water supply, transportation, energy and much more. Climate change is a threat to human existence!

We don’t have much time before there are irreversible changes to how we live our lives. I asked my parents how that makes them feel. 

Mom: It actually scares me, because I would like for my children and my grandchildren to actually learn more in life–get a chance to be successful at any career they want to go into; anything in life that they want to be; anything in life that they want to challenge. I want them to have the opportunity in order to do that. And if there are only 10 years left, I mean that’s not a lot of time. 

Dad: It makes me feel ashamed. I feel like a failure, because my generation and the generations that were before me, we didn’t take heed to it when we got the information. And it’s ironic that you had to get a summer job to learn about climate change. That’s a heck of a thing to tell somebody that’s 15 years old. 

Because scientists say we have a little more than decade to fix this, I want to know how we can, or if we can, fix it. And I need to learn more.

Monday, it can be a beautiful sunny day, then Tuesday, a heavy downpour with thunder and lightning, causing a power outage. Though everyday weather isn’t climate change, I want to understand how the weather is changing, and what that is going to mean in the future. My future. 

My generation needs to learn about this crisis, because we are the future. It will impact us and our children.

I’m going to have to do something about it, like voting for politicians that have solutions, and taking care of my family.  I’m going to continue to read about climate change and share what I learn.

Kayonia Sowell was a summer intern through Learn and Earn, an employment opportunity through Partner4Work, and Youth Enrichment Services, which aims to empower youth through mentorship, education, and enrichment.

A Random Act of Teaching: The State of Climate Change Education in PA