Seanelle LeeSang is a science teacher at I.S. 68 in New York City and a member of UFT.
For what reasons do you think of your job as “climate work”?
In recent years, climate work has played a major role at I.S. 68. I’ve been a member of the Eco and Sustainability team for eight years now. We strive to make our students and the larger community aware of climate issues. We’ve created a sustainability curriculum and have incorporated it into our daily teaching. There’s also an after-school eco club, where students can participate in activities such as gardening, repurposing items, and recycling programs.
How do you see the climate crisis affecting your work and your community?
I work in Brooklyn, which is a coastal area. During Superstorm Sandy, that area flooded. Long Island, where I live and also a coastal area, also flooded. Families were displaced. Even many of the schools within the school district flooded.
There was an elementary school housed in my school building for about two weeks due to flooding. In some areas of NYC, it took several weeks—and in some cases months—before school resumed in a mostly normal way, and where students and families could move back into their homes and schools, but the effects of Sandy are still being felt today.
Flooding in NYC continues to worsen as we experience more severe weather. Towards the end of last summer, the remnants of a tropical storm passed through the NYC area and it caused several flooding. Some people even died, some of whom resided in basement apartments.
Why is being a union member important to you, especially in light of the climate crisis?
Being a union member is important to me because it helps me to collaborate with others in solidarity to bring about systemic change. Working on the Carbon-Free and Healthy Schools campaign, we are pushing for retrofits of our school buildings with modern renewable energy systems. Our schools have outdated heating and cooling systems that burn fossil fuels and aren’t safe for students or school staff. We’re working on improving our schools and making them safer places.
Anything else you want to add?
This issue is important because we’re educating the future workforce. We should be moving towards preparing our students for careers in the clean energy industry and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. It is not enough to just implement a few sustainability programs in schools. Schools need to serve as models within communities with the installation of solar power technology and other clean sources of energy.
I think as a whole there definitely needs to be a nation-wide environmental education curriculum. Environmental and climate curricula should be mandated in schools across the country.
The NYC Office of Sustainability and the Service in Schools program has helped to change the way we teach environmental education. Students are participating in meaningful service projects. Students are learning how to maintain vegetable gardens on school grounds, reduce and repurpose waste and grow food using hydroponic systems among many other programs.