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Chicago Environmental Educators provide free resources for urban teachers

Peter Medlin

“But what can I do here?” is a question a lot of environmental educators get when they teach students about big issues like climate change and environmental justice.

In late 2021, Chicago teacher Ayesha T. Qazi-Lampert was standing in the rain protesting. A scrap-metal company wants to move into a low-income area. Protestors want their permit denied. A teacher from that community embarked on a hunger strike.

She was there to fight for a cause she believes in and to show her students how they can be an ally for environmental issues in their city.

“The highlight of all of this work was my students on their own asking me, like, ‘can I connect with the student group there?’, she said. "And it was like, 'whoa, I never even asked that,'” she said.

Qazi-Lampert is the co-founder of the Chicago Environmental Educators -- a network of urban teachers sharing free resources and learning opportunities.

Many students are concerned with environmental issues like climate change. But Chicago educators like Qazi-Lampert and fellow co-founder Ylanda Wilhite realized that there weren’t many environmental education resources available for urban schools.

“Even when the resources were available to teachers," said Wilhite, "it was still a lot of that burden was still put on them.”

With the group, educators have participated in river biodiversity surveys and protested environmental racism issues with fellow teachers on Chicago’s southeast side.

Qazi-Lampert said the organization changed how she teaches and the questions she gets from students about how they can get involved. Thanks to the network, she even has a guest speaker in her class every day.

Now, when students ask, “What can I do here?” she has specific examples and guest speakers she can connect them with.

But she said Illinois still needs to embed environmental justice and racism into curriculum. Chicago Environmental Educators also recently helped craft the Illinois Environmental Education Association’s “environmental literacy” framework. And she said it’s comforting to have other teachers reach out to help fight for environmental issues.

Peter joins WNIJ as a graduate of North Central College. He is a native of Sandwich, Illinois.