U9 teachers educate, empower students with  Climate Conference


On Friday, April 19, 2024, Berkeley High School teachers held a Climate Conference with five  out of seven Universal Ninth Grade (U9) hives. The conference consisted of over 20 workshops with a variety of focuses. The workshops fell under four sections: math and science, creativity, garden and community, and action-focused. Each teacher sponsored a workshop, but their students were not required to take part based on their teacher. Freshmen selected their choices for the workshops they wanted to attend and then went to wherever they were assigned instead of their typical hive classes. In the days and weeks leading up to the conference, participating hives have learned about climate change and climate solutions in their Ethnic Studies and English classes. 

“We have pulled all of our resources from Berkeley and have found lots of different people who are experts in their fields to teach our students through a lot of project-based learning and interesting seminars on their discipline,” Menaka Gentle, a U9 Ethnic Studies teacher, said. Gentle ran a workshop with a creative focus on “The Power of Preservation” to learn the basics of pickling, fermenting, salt preserving, and canning. Students had the chance to try out the preservation techniques, as well as take the things they made home.

“We want students to feel energized about getting involved in trying to fight climate change and to feel empowered to do so. Often, when you are starting to learn about climate change, it’s really depressing and anxiety-inducing. We want students to be able to learn about it in a way that will help them see how they can get involved and that there are real kinds of solutions that are happening all around us,” Zia Grossman-Vendrillo, a U9 English teacher who helped organize the event, said. 

Masha Albrecht, a BHS math teacher, ran a workshop on the use of sunlight and shadows to charge a solar panel efficiently. Students used small solar panels to power different devices, such as a phone or a fan. They used math from Math 1 and examples of math all the way through calculus. Albrecht said, “I’m really, really concerned that we’re not addressing climate change more urgently every single day. We know as teachers that our students are anxious about climate change, so we feel that part of our responsibility is to educate (them) so that (they) can understand what’s going on and also have some tools for affecting change.” 

Another workshop in the creativity category was ‘Denim By Nature Upcycling Fashion Waste,’ run by Remake and Ciclo SF. Remake and Ciclo are both companies that work to promote fashion sustainability. Remake uses campaigns to aid sweatshop workers and hold corporate fashion companies accountable for their negative contributions to the environment. Ciclo is a working studio that offers sewing classes to assist and encourage sustainable clothes. 

In the workshop, students learned about Remakes’ goals, and, in association with Cilco, had the opportunity to turn used denim into nature-themed jewelry. The workshop was run by Amy Auerbach, who volunteers for Remake. Auerbach said, “It’s just a way to have students interact with clothing and make it something different. Denim is very toxic to the environment with all the water it uses, and the dye, and the finishing, so (the goal is to be) able to take denim that you might throw away and repurpose it into something else.”

Other examples of workshops hosted include “Navigating Climate Anxiety with Herbalism,” “Using AI to Fight Climate Disaster,” “Get to Know the BHS Garden,” and many more.

Grossman-Vendrillo said, “If we’re not teaching students to be prepared for climate change, then what are we teaching them?”