This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Students at George McCall Elementary School in Society Hill are finding creative ways to raise awareness about climate change amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Joanna Bottaro’s 5th-grade class is using artwork, slogans, and poetry to educate and inspire the community — all from their own homes.
Students are displaying their climate-themed artwork in windows for the community to see. They hope their creative slogans will prompt Philadelphians to think more critically about climate change and will offer inspiration during the global pandemic.
Bottaro led this project as part of Need in Deed, a nonprofit organization that encourages teachers in the Philadelphia area to incorporate service-learning projects into the curriculum.
McCall 5th grader Eva Yang’s climate change awareness poster.
Bottaro’s class project began at the beginning of the school year, when students were asked to decide on a topic to explore in-depth.
“The whole class came to an agreement, which means we did a lot of persuasive writing and debate,” Bottaro explained. “They had to think about what other people were saying and what stood out to them as the most important issue of this time.”
After deciding on climate change as the topic, Bottaro’s class began an extensive exploration of the issue, bringing experts from the field into the classroom to learn more.
However, the culminating project was affected by school closures due to COVID-19 and by the transition to remote learning. Bottaro said of the virtual barrier: “We worked hard to get past it. We worked together as a class. The students came up with ideas about what we could do to communicate our concern for the environment.”
The students decided to spread their message through various creative media, using climate-themed slogans. “Our kids made slogans to make people think about what they’re looking at, as opposed to telling people what to do.”
But devising the messages and drawings are not the only way that the McCall 5th graders are expressing themselves.
“A big part of how we work together during our time in quarantine is our poetry,” said Roxi Hughes, one of Bottaro’s students.
Eugene Koesmadjie’s climate change poster
Student Eugene Koesmadjie said that he likes the signs as a way to spread the word, but that the poetry is more personal.
“Climate change is a big thing, and people should know that. And poems — I like them the most because they really show what I actually feel about climate change and what’s happening right now.”
The decrease in human activity due to social-distancing measures has brought attention to humans’ impact on the environment — a silver lining that motivates Bottaro’s class.
“It’s a big learning experience for all of us to see when us humans are inside, the climate is changing,” said Roxi. “It’s good for all of us to know that if we put effort into it, we can help stop climate change. We can make a difference.”
Eugene added: “We’re still in this COVID-19 situation, it’s true. But we can still make a change. We are still making slogans. Slogans that give real effect on people and what COVID-19 is doing to climate change, and it’s really helping.”
Bottaro and her class encourage Philadelphians to seek out their creative slogans across Center City. “We’re hoping people will start looking for them. We know people are looking for rainbows, but maybe they could look for our slogans.”
The students’ pieces can be found all through the Old City, Washington Square West, Chinatown, and Society Hill neighborhoods.