The Challenge

"Sustainable energy can revitalize our economies, strengthen social equity, and catalyse a clean energy revolution that benefits all humanity.  Acting together, we can open new horizons today and help power a brighter tomorrow."
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

"We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."
President John F. Kennedy

It has been sixty years since President Kennedy made clear our nation's intentions to land an American on the moon.  To accomplish this goal, President Kennedy knew that it would require an unprecedented investment in science and math education.  I am hard pressed to think of a President, or other national leader, since that time who has issued a proclamation and call to service and duty of such magnitude.  Although the political and economic circumstances of the mid-Twentieth century are much different than they are today, there lies a similar opportunity and need to rely on our educational system to address a great challenge.  

There are over seven billion people on our planet.  According to a United Nations report the world's population will grow to nearly nine billion in 2050, a 47% increase.  How can we sustain such a population given our significant dependence on our dwindling resources?  The United States, the world's leading consumer of oil, uses nearly 20 million barrels of oil EVERY DAY.  This is not a renewable resource, and therefore we have to be prepared for the day when oil is no longer available as a resource that fuels how we travel, live, and trade.  It isn't just oil.  It is our forests, our food supply, and our water.  Developing alternative energy (Clean Energy, or Green Energy) and the overall issue of  sustainability are our next great challenges; our next race to the moon.

In 1962, when President Kennedy made it clear to the world that the United States was committed to winning the Race to the Moon, Americans were scared and worried about their future.  However, President Kennedy was able to transform this collective sense of uncertainty into opportunity.  Similarly, we can look at our current world's challenges as an opportunity to build the better tomorrow that Secretary-General Ki-moon referenced in the quote above.  

Regardless of what career path our students will soon choose, they need to understand that they can play a vital role in building a more sustainable world.  This week, 34 eighth-grade students at SMS participated in the second annual SMS Business Trip and had the opportunity to see how three very different businesses are addressing the issue of sustainability.  

At the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation students learned how seemingly simple changes in how buildings utilize light, materials, space, and heating and cooling systems can allow the building to be less dependent on non-renewable energy, more cost-efficient, and healthier for those who work there- the main goals of sustainability.  To accomplish this, the Dodge Foundation had to rely on people from many different fields: architects, engineers, horticulturalists (they have an internal plant wall and roof-top garden), electricians, flooring and HVAC installers, designers, and painters.  

BASF's North American headquarters was the next stop on the trip.  The building, opened in April of 2012, was awarded the rare double-platinum status by the United States Green Building Council's LEED certification program.  The design of the building clearly reflects the company's emphasis on collaboration, teamwork, technology, health, efficiency and productivity.  For example, in order to increase the productivity and health of those who work there, the building has its own cafeteria where healthier food is discounted; a Starbucks that encourages employees to stay on campus for their morning jolt and not spend time, money and oil driving miles away; and its very own health club.  The students were also introduced to many of the products that BASF has designed that promote a more sustainable world (ex: chemicals that preserve food products and lead to less waste, chairs made of recyclable paper, concrete used to build the Freedom Tower that requires less water).  Although BASF defines itself as a chemical company it employs people from many different fields including but not limited to sales, marketing, communications, and mechanical and chemical engineering.

The final stop of the tour was Wyndham Worldwide.  Wyndham is the parent company of dozens of hotel chains and individual properties.  At this stop, the students were told about the great challenge facing the hotel industry in terms of sustainability and green energy and how Wyndham is leading the way in creating meaningful change.  The building, awarded the LEED silver award, also has its own gym, cafeteria, post office, and yes, Starbucks.  The theme once again, is creating a healthy (working out), happy (Wii Rooms), and productive (less time out of the building) climate for those that work there.

Yes, the challenges of 21st century are great.  Creating a more sustainable and green environment will require our schools to prepare our students to address these challenges.  This presents for our students a great opportunity: to work hard to develop the essential skills and understandings that will allow them to lead our world and "help power a better tomorrow".  This week, some of our students had the opportunity to see that at least three companies that are already starting to lead this change; by making a challenge an opportunity.  I am excited for this generation of students.  Before them lies a world desperate for change yet rich in possibility.  Go get it.  Me? I'm getting a Starbucks.


Three Faces

One of my favorite traditions at Sparta Middle School is that every morning during homeroom we play the National Anthem, followed immediately by the Pledge of Allegiance.  Some schools play the Star-Spangled Banner on special dates or at the beginning of sporting events, but at SMS we are committed to devoting 1 minute and 30 seconds of our day to the song of our nation.  While most students stand in silence as the music plays, some of our 8th grade homerooms have been known to sing along to the words penned by Francis Scott Key nearly two centuries ago.  In fact, there is an unofficial competition between some homerooms over which one does the best rendition.

My hope is that during these still moments, students will take the opportunity to reflect and appreciate the men or women, both past and present, famous or unknown, that have through their sacrifice or their story influenced them. For me it is three people; three faces.

The first is Pat Tillman.  Corporal Tillman was a college football star at Arizona State University before getting drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in 1998.  Following the 2001 season, Pat turned down millions of dollars to keep playing in the NFL and decided to join the U.S. Army with his brother, Kevin.  On April 22, 2004 Pat Tillman, while on a mission in Afghanistan, was accidentally killed by a member of his own platoon.  For me, he represents all the men and women who choose to serve and sacrifice.

Just recently a former student of mine joined the United States Marine Corps.  I have known him since he was thirteen years old and will never forget the pride that he felt when he completed the Marine Corps training program, Officer Candidate School.  His face is the second one that I picture when I stand for the National Anthem.  I wonder where he might be, hope that he is safe, and that wherever he is that he will be home soon.

Finally, there is Ryan.  I think of Ryan during the National Anthem not for reasons of patriotism, but as a reminder of my own commitment to the students in our school.  I first came across the name Ryan Halligan while watching an episode of Frontline.  The episode was about how the growth of the internet has influenced- revolutionized- how students learn, communicate and interact with one another.  To list what has specifically changed would be a superfluous exercise; with each passing day we are increasingly committed (not necessarily to our liking or by choice) to our devices and profiles.  However, we also are recognizing the dangers of "growing up online", to borrow the title of the episode.   Undoubtedly, the internet has altered how we communicate.  Protected by the perceived safety of distance and sometimes anonymity, we are more likely to type and post things about other people that we would not normally say to their face.

By the time John Halligan, father of Ryan, fully understood what his son was doing and what others were doing to him online and at school it was too late.  I never met Ryan but I know that he could be a student at any of the schools where I have worked...just a different name and face.  Same hurt, same pain, just somebody in need of a smile in the hallway and for people to be kind and respectful.

This week Mr. Halligan will be presenting to our parents and many of our students his son's story. The goal of his presentation it to raise awareness about teen depression, suicide prevention and the dangers of bullying (on the internet and in school).  The third face: Ryan Halligan.  You won't forget it either.

For more on Mr. Halligan's presentation:

Most recent article on his presentation:

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