Voices of Youth: A climate change education law in Michigan?

Editor's Note: This story was reported by Harper Horvath as part of the Fall 2023 Kalamazoo Voices of Youth Program. Accompanying artwork was created by Voices of Youth's Lexi Tuley and Nyla Rybarczyk. The Voices of Youth Kalamazoo program is a collaboration between Southwest Michigan Second Wave and KYD Network, funded by the Stryker Johnston Foundation. 

Please listen to the entire audio story:


Audio Transcript:

On Sept. 7, a bill was introduced in the Michigan State House of Representatives regarding how climate change is taught in public schools. 

A major focus of the bill is the creation of a task force. The body would have 13 members with a wide range of expertise, including representatives ranging from the Michigan Science Teachers' Association to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Forest Resources Division. 

Artwork by Nyla Rybarczyk of Voices of Youth Kalamazoo. Please see Artist's Statement below.The task force's main goal will be the creation of an environmental literacy curriculum. This curriculum aims to prepare students to tackle climate challenges and ready them for a more climate-conscious future. It will also help teachers, improve their knowledge and teaching ability on the subject. 

Jace Bylenga is a West Michigan regional organizer with the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. 

Artwork by Nyla Rybarczyk of Voices of Youth Kalamazoo. Please see Artist's Statement below.He said he is excited for younger students to become involved in these subjects.
“It’s going to help people get outside,” Bylenga said. “It’s going to help teachers get more training and really just help the climate crisis be looked at as a sector-wide problem.” 

State Rep. Julie Rogers, of Kalamazoo, introduced the bill. She said she has been passionate about climate issues since she was a child and that education at an early age is vital.
This was created by Voices of Youth's Lexi Tuley. Please see her Artist Statement and biographical note below.”We're in a climate crisis, so I think it's important to teach these concepts because of those facts,” Rogers said. 

When asked about the bill’s future, the Democrat lawmaker said the committee is working on incorporating the feedback that was shared at its committee hearing in early October. 

“We’re working on some updates and changes to the bill. And I look forward to presenting that back to the chair for consideration and, hopefully, a vote very soon,” Rogers said. 

Artwork by Nyla Rybarczyk of Voices of Youth Kalamazoo. Please see Artist's Statement below.The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Education. Rogers said she is optimistic about the bill and excited about its journey. It would need to pass both the House and Senate to become law.

For the latest on the bill, visit Michigan Legislature - House Bill 4961 (2023).

Harper Horvath
produced this piece as part of the first-ever audio component of the Voices of Youth Kalamazoo program, offered in Fall 2023. Harper is a senior at Portage Central High School. She is a member of a youth climate coalition group in Kalamazoo called Ardea. After graduation, Harper plans to attend Northern Arizona University to study environmental sustainability. Her mentor for this project was WMUK's Report for America Intern Michael Symonds, who graduated from Western Michigan University.

Lexi Tuley is an 18-year-old senior at Loy Norrix High School. Lexi enjoys reading and crocheting, as well as video games. Right now Lexi must choose between playing the new Spiderman game or sleeping, and it is a hard choice. Lexi joined Voices of Youth Kalamazoo for the second time this cohort because they enjoyed their first program so much. 

Artist Statement: 
I chose to represent my focus on climate change through mixed media. I created the design on recycled cardboard using collage, colored pencils, and paint pens. To show the effect that humans have on the earth as the population and industry grow, I drew versions of the earth that appear to die a little more and more with each phase — each earth with less and less vibrancy.

Nyla Rybarczyk
, 17, is a senior at Parchment High School.

Artist Statement:

“I CAN’T HEAR YOU” is a piece I created to start a conversation on teens’ lack of awareness concerning environmental issues. The mediums consisted of cardboard and collage materials, felt, paint, and more. I thought it was important to portray a teen in their room who is sort of aloof and too focused on their phone to notice what is right in front of them. The walls are representative of Michigan State House Bill No 4961 which is focused on teaching skills relating to Environmental Literacy, Climate Change, and Healthy Lifestyle. This topic will always be important to me so thank you Voices of Youth for the opportunity to be a part of the conversation. 

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