Educator Appreciation Series: Ken Perkins Brings UN SDGs to Carmichael Area Middle School

Ken Perkins began working with the U.N. SDG Teacher Cohort in January of 2020. He uses Integrative Science to engage with students in projects regarding recycling, reuse, pollution, and climate change.

Prior to his work within the Carmichaels Area Teacher Cohort, Perkins spent his time with other seventh grade science teachers by performing water-testing and evaluation for his school’s local water sources, starting with a stream that runs through the property of Carmichaels Area Middle School.

Perkins set out to participate in his local Teacher Cohort to show his students that there are solutions to climate change, even if they are on a small scale. These solutions can be implemented to fix global problems.

“I’ve been trying to design projects that involve being proactive, projects that kids can actually do on their own,” he says. “That way, when they go home, they are able to do what they did in class and spread awareness of the solutions we’ve been working on.”

The projects involve reusing common materials, testing water quality, participating in discussions. A project he hopes to pursue when he returns to school with his students is using milk jugs and other large pieces of plastics as planters to create a garden.

Working with educators from other disciplines has allowed Perkins to gain more perspective on diverse approaches to thinking about climate solutions. For example, he notes that an educator in English Language Arts might spread awareness through communication and outreach, while a Kindergarten teacher might be faced with the challenge of bringing climate-related discussions to a developmentally friendly level.

Perkins was surprised to learn that students had gaps in knowledge about climate-related issues before entering his classroom.

For example, his students hadn’t known about how companies resort to purchasing “pollution credits”- an issue that results in a concentration of pollution within certain countries that may be dependent on such funding. He says that he tries to present issues in a way that feels shocking at first in order to captivate the attention of his sometimes-desensitized students.

“I try to break them down a bit at first by presenting them with an issue that might seem large in scope. Then I build them back up by asking them what we can do to fix the problem at our level.”

Students from Perkins’s Integrative Science Class re-purposing water bottles.

This work can be continued in the long run, informs Perkins, though he does believe there are necessary efforts to be considered. “I recognize that we need to make sure we can sustain resources. I would want to make sure that we continue to find ways of receiving grant funding. Materials that might be tough to sustain are materials we can’t reuse, such as water testing kits or soil.”

Perkins would like for more folks within the school district to get involved in ongoing projects, as well as gain more support from local parents. There have also been some challenges in getting educators involved in becoming part of his Teacher Cohort, he admits.

“We’re trying to change the world and trying to change the world’s thinking,” says Perkins, when describing the work he does with his school community.

“You’re not going to reach everybody, but if you can at least reach ten or fifteen kids out of seventy, those folks will be really prime to do this work and are going to give it their one-hundred percent.”

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