By Willie King III

Through my many experiences as an educator, I have found that the spark never really disappears; the flame just looks different. Transitioning into the second semester of the 2021-2022 school year as an official SEMIS Educator… naturally, it felt weird. I was going from teaching in one school to now teaching in three different schools, five different classrooms. The sparks I received felt refreshing, but the flames ignited different emotions. Even though I was up for the challenge, finally getting my chance to show SEMIS what I was made of. Not that I felt like I was riding the bench, however, I didn’t feel like I was quite a starter yet. Having previously worked in a high school before accepting my new position with SEMIS, I was overjoyed to be working back directly with students. The interaction piece with students is so essential to my style of teaching. 

As an educator, my style of teaching is one I have shaped from the ground up with techniques I have borrowed from previous teachers I have shadowed in the past. I am blessed with a gift to connect with the youth of today’s generations. So I was confident that I could definitely deliver what was needed of me. To my surprise, I was not aware of the drawback from the zoom calls at this point in the pandemic. At times, I felt like the kids thought I was boring or dry. Was it me, was it the curriculum or was it my approach? The curriculum that I was teaching was developed by SEMIS and EcoWorks as part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Environmental Literacy program. A project that was founded in 2018 by SEMIS, EcoWorks Detroit, Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments (GLISA), and Michigan Sea Grant. It is designed to develop and implement a climate change education and leadership program in Detroit and Ypsilanti Public Schools.

Trying to create a flow of engagement was difficult, however, the use of Jamboards early on allowed a free range of possible interactions. One of my favorite assignments early on, was using the jamboards to create a collage of pictures to describe who we were. We called this assignment, the “vision board” and I enjoyed viewing the similarities me and my partner shared with other students. Rather, it was my love for anime or Armani’s (my partner) love for music. This task allowed us to connect with our students just a little more than before while also allowing students to view similar interests they shared with their peers in the classroom. From there, things started to move into a better direction once we started to transition into a more hybrid schedule.

By the second week of February, most classes were beginning to discuss the pros and cons of their respective cities. The goal of this activity was to connect the students to places or areas in their city they found beautiful or were proud of. Some of the things students were proud of across the board were historical monuments, the community they reside in, art murals around the city and, of course, food. While the counterpart to this was to list issues they have noticed in their city. Common answers amongst my classes were crime, potholes, debris, high school itself and Michigan “bipolar weather.” From there I had them think about solutions to these matters and how they could exercise their voice to address these issues. Towards the end of February, I was in open dialogue with each of my five classes as I was finally beginning to build a rapport.  

By the time March came around, most classes had completed a community walk around their school. For Ypsilanti, it was the noticeable areas of land where water can be trapped or stored, for schools in Detroit conversation around the lack of green infrastructures and trash carried our conversations. The community walk, much like the pros and cons activity, allows students to formulate a visual connection to their surrounding place. Towards the middle of March, all classes had driven into at least Chapter 5 of the Our Climate, Our future videos. This is a series of videos that highlighted how the youth could exercise their voice in the fight for climate change. Topics we had covered at this point were the carbon cycle, CO2 emission, climate change in relation to natural disasters  to is climate change even real?  

Looking back at the month of March, one of my favorite lesson plans was the greenhouse gas activity. In this activity, the goal was to guide the students through a series of open questions to get them wondering about, thinking through, and problem solving about earth and its climate. After explaining what the greenhouse gas effect was, I had each class draw out their own symbolic drawing of a greenhouse gas effect, followed by an interactive scenario. The way this looked was, the kids and I would play out how photons and natural gasses get trapped within the atmosphere. This activity requires a lot of participation, but for my smaller classes I improvised with chairs. 

When April finally came around, I spent most of the month preparing kids for the home stretch and wrapping up the last few chapters from Our Climate, Our Future videos. Omar Gates visited (a renowned Climatologist for GLISA) who was there to help with project planning. With a sprinkle of kahoot and jamboard prompts in between to keep things not so formal. By the time the SEMIS Community Forum came around, the flames that were ignited at the beginning of the year were shining bright with rays of excitement. I was excited to see the outcomes of everyone’s hard work and was overjoyed with the relationships I built in each class. I had gone from that boring guest teacher to Mr. King. I felt like I was truly in my bag in April and May while equally shaping out my role within SEMIS. I was finally feeling like a starter on the team. 

Willie King III on the left with SEMIS community partner Matt Williams from Pipeline Connect at the 2022 Community Forum.