Be the Change: Locke’s IB Programme & Climate Cycle

By Brad Parker, International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme Coordinator, Locke Elementary School

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme is gaining steam, both locally and globally, as a leader in education today. The programme offers four high-quality international education programmes to more than one million students in 146 countries, including about 40 CPS elementary and high schools.

As a Middle Years Programme Coordinator, my job is to bring the IB mission to life: creating a better world through education. While on a daily basis that may come in the form of creative unit-based instruction and rigorous assessment, the big picture is one of students inquiring, acting, and reflecting on their role in this mighty world that we all call home. They are encouraged to remember the importance of international-mindedness, and upon contemplation, what other global issue is as internationally (inter)dependent as climate change?

Joey Feinstein delivers part 1 of the Sustainability Assembly Series.  © Erin Potter

Joey Feinstein delivers Part 1 of the expanded Sustainability Assembly Series.  © Erin Potter

For four years I participated in Climate Cycle’s May bike-a-thon event with my brother (and fellow teacher) Josh and the Curie Condors. It was exciting to be part of such an important (clean energy) movement, but I constantly found myself hungering for an opportunity to bring Climate Cycle closer to home, which for me was Locke Elementary, a K-8 school in Chicago’s Montclare neighborhood. When I became the IB Coordinator at Locke in 2012, I knew that Climate Cycle could help bring to life the IB mission of creating a better world through education, and honestly what better partner-in-crime than Climate Cycle Executive Director Joey Feinstein?

Joey and I met on and off for about two months at the beginning of the 2012 school year, carefully crafting our approach to get Locke involved with Climate Cycle. After planning and delivering a three-part Sustainability Assembly Series on everything from climate change to American social movements, we shared a vision of a mighty team of Locke Lions rallying for the cause and crossed our fingers for a positive turnout.

The entire Locke contingent at the May 2013 ride/stride event. © Brad Parker

The entire Locke contingent at the May 2013 ride/stride event. © Brad Parker

Come May of 2013, the Locke “Solar Team” was 100 students strong, 25 teachers strong, and 10 parents strong, and had raised $10,700! This is coming from a school where 87.5% of our student population is considered low-income – they were high on enthusiasm and a desire to “be the change.” They had a ball at the May ride/stride event, strode the 3 miles with pride, and were ecstatic to hear that Locke was the top participating school of 2013.

Locke IB student with her Voltaic solar panel.  © Brad Parker

A Locke student demonstrates her own Voltaic solar panel charging her phone. © Brad Parker

As members of the top participating school team, the students were awarded a first place prize (from the very generous CITYTECH) in the form of individual Voltaic solar panels. Using their Voltaic solar panels, students learned about solar energy and were able to apply that knowledge at home by charging cell phones, mp3 players, and other electronics using solar energy.

In addition to independent practice, students in 8th grade Science class learned how personal change can save the depletion of valuable natural resources and that there are alternatives to fossil fuel energy generation and usage. In their unit titled “Power,” students evaluated different forms of clean energy including wind and solar to address the overarching unit question: “Will there be enough for the future?” This unit encompassed not only science but also math for data analysis and language arts in terms of writing their data-based arguments about the need for change in our energy habits, sources, and consumption.

After completing a Green Schools Grant application, we recently were awarded a 2013 Climate Cycle Green Schools Grant for solar panels. Our students and community could not be more excited. The addition of a solar panel array in 2014 will undoubtedly increase the depth and breadth of the already invaluable learning focused on exploring the different forms of clean energy.

IB students studying power produced by light energy.  © Brad Parker

IB students studying how power is produced by light energy. © Brad Parker

After these incredible learning experiences, for our students, teachers, and community, I couldn’t help but think that there were so many more hungry students and communities. With Joey’s genuine passion and talent for sharing the urgency of Climate Cycle’s mission, I realized that Climate Cycle should be in every IB school in the city, let alone every school in the city! With that thought in mind, Joey and I presented our story and the magic of Climate Cycle to 40 CPS IB elementary and high school coordinators, again with fingers crossed for a positive response. We were thrilled that many IB schools, both elementary and high school programmes, were interested.

The Locke/Climate Cycle story is one that I continue to reflect on and that I still consider one of my proudest moments in my short nine years in Chicago education. I smile knowing that there are organizations out there like Climate Cycle and people like Joey Feinstein that truly provide young people with the skills and attitudes they need in order to take responsible action for the future. That’s what education is about, and Climate Cycle is helping us get there. Whether it be through an interactive assembly, participation in the May event, or an outdoor Math or Science class learning about solar energy under our (soon-to-be) solar panels next year, change is coming to Chicago and its voice is growing louder and stronger by the day. As the old proverb goes, “one generation plants the seeds, another gets the shade.” Those seeds are certainly being planted, and the best part is: we’re just getting started.


Guest blogger Brad Parker provided indispensable assistance with the development and expansion of our 3-part Sustainability Assembly Series.