Students take cues from United Nations to tackle climate change

Verizon Innovative Learning students across America help advance United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals for a cleaner planet

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Krystie Ramirez, Sophia Sanchez and Karla Sanchez hold sustainable bricks made from mycelium fungi. (credit: Courtesy of Bunche Middle School)

By Bonsu Thompson

The COVID-19 pandemic may have pushed schools across the country to temporarily close to slow the spread of the virus, but the lessons imparted by Verizon Innovative Learning resonate far beyond classroom walls. Climate protection is a key component of the initiative’s drive to empower under-resourced middle school students to leverage technology, design thinking and social innovation to build healthier, more sustainable communities. The program’s next-gen technology-infused curriculum often serves as students’ introduction to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which provides a blueprint for improving the world for everyone.

Verizon Innovative Learning students are challenged to use the technology and access afforded by the initiative to advance the SDGs and shape themselves into agents of global transformation. To that end, students at Propel Northside Academy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, used their Verizon-provided devices to create a podcast focused on clean water innovation, while seventh graders at Whitewater Middle School in Charlotte, North Carolina, designed solutions to improve air quality in their community. Campers at California State University San Bernardino crafted a 3D printed pollinator to take over for disappearing bees, and the girls who attended a camp at Roane State Community College in Harriman, Tennessee, prototyped tools that increase vegetation and biodiversity in impoverished regions. These young scientists know that working together for the common good—much as we are all doing right now by practicing social distancing—is the best way to address challenges like climate change that threaten the world we share.

Compton, California: Building smart, sustainable communities

Harmful construction emissions are a contributor to global warming. But the brilliant students of Compton, California’s Bunche Middle School offer a solution: use renewable resources to build houses for a greener earth. “My group worked on making mycelium bricks out of fungi,” says seventh-grader, Karla Sanchez. “Mycelium bricks are fire-resistant, super strong and waterproof. They also promote sustainability and green energy because they produce no pollution when making them.”

The process of creating the building blocks of tomorrow began with the devices and access made available by Verizon Innovative Learning. First, students conducted in-class and home internet research on the specific functions of mycelium, a multicellular fungus. “They maximized their free data plans provided by Verizon to work from home,” says Jose Gonzalez, the school’s 21st-century learning specialist. They used those same devices to document their projects. The students mixed the mycelium with a growth solution, then pushed it into molds to create bricks that can be used for the responsible production of sustainable communities, as prescribed by the UN SDGs. “It was amazing growing something with my own hands,” says sixth-grader Krystie Ramirez.

Students use tech in the Verizon Innovative Learning Lab at Whitewater Middle School. (credit: Logan Cyrus)

Jackson, Mississippi: Increasing access to clean water

When the students at Verizon Innovative Learning’s Young Men of Color program hosted at Jackson State University were asked which UN SDG resonated most with them, clean water and sanitation received the majority vote. The students jumped in and used the available tech to produce an array of water purifier models. Seventh-grader Kristopher Gaylor designed a version that used cotton, charcoal and sand to free water of debris. He says the issue is dear to him because it is one that transcends his Mississippi hometown of Jackson. “A lot of countries do not have clean water,” says Kristopher. “Especially the poor countries.”

His classmate Shawne Joiner II created a solar-powered purification system. “The purification system is Bluetooth compatible and can be controlled and monitored through an app we made,” says Joiner. “We used the technology provided to us by Verizon to make 3D models of the system.”

Says Dr. Tamika Bradley, assistant professor in the Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at Jackson State University: “Verizon Innovative Learning provides a safe space for students to be creative and innovative without fear of failure. The learning experiences have embedded supports that strengthen confidence and allow them to enjoy the ride.”

San Jose, California: Saving aquatic ecosystems and lives

Seventh-grade lab instructor Amber Johnstone found herself blown away by the innovation on display at William Sheppard Middle School’s STEAM Showcase this year. The San Jose, California-based students used an array of Verizon Innovative Learning-supplied technology—including microcontroller boards and green screens—to address goals related to life on land and life below water. “One group of students coded models to detect movement, using them as a warning system for earthquakes,” says an excited Johnstone. Another went all in on cleaning up the ocean. “Their solution was to design a floating raft in the ocean that used a mesh bag which would collect trash from currents,” says Johnstone of the project, which was chosen to compete at the Alum Rock Union Elementary School District Showcase. “When the bag was full, it would close up and send off a signal to scientists who would then come and collect the bag and replace it with a new empty one.”

Johnstone loves that the SDGs are part of the Verizon Innovative Learning curriculum. “These projects enhance learning because students are able to get hands-on with their learning. They are not expected to simply learn by reading facts, but instead are able to research topics and tailor their learning to their needs and interests,” she says. “These projects also require students to work on important skills like problem-solving, collaboration and critical thinking.”

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