Teen Exchange on Climate Change

By Carolyn Belardo

Excitement and anticipation—and a bit of apprehension—hangs in the air. Days earlier, each of the 15 teenagers seated around the long rectangular table in a room off of Dinosaur Hall received an envelope in the mail announcing their selection to participate in a new program that could change their life.

This is the first time the girls, all Philadelphia public school students, are gathered together to share their thoughts and feelings.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says DaiJzanaée Martinez, a junior at World Communications Charter School.

“I don’t know what to expect, but I know it will be different than Philly,” offers Allure Gray, a junior at Central High School.

“I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d meet somebody from there,” Ti’anna Cooper, a junior at Philadelphia High School for Girls, chimes in.

The teens and a dozen of their colleagues in the Academy’s Women in Natural Sciences program are talking about a new initiative centered on climate change and involving a new partnership between the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University and the National Museum of Mongolia in Ulaanbaatar.

Climate change is one of the most critical issues facing the world, experts say, yet the people who will be most affected by its impacts—today’s teenagers— are the least engaged. This new partnership seeks to bridge the gap.

Building on more than 20 years of climate change research in Mongolia, the Academy is bringing together teenage girls in the two cities to explore their cultural heritages and how they relate to climate change in their individual neighborhoods, cities and countries. Uniting the 30 teens half a world apart in a nearly yearlong cultural, educational, and scientific exchange will ultimately benefit a larger community.

“The stark differences in their schools, cities and cultures will serve to demonstrate that climate change is a global issue,” says Academy Vice President of Education Dr. Jacquie Genovesi.

Mongolian girls in their country's ROOTS program
Mongolian girls in their country’s ROOTS program

Climate change from their viewpoint

“Do they experience the same kinds of things we do in Philly?” wonders Ariel Bradley, a sophomore at Central High School.

“Will I be able to keep up with all the work?” worries her twin Arianna, also a sophomore at Central High School.

Under the leadership of WINS Manager Betsy Payne and the collaboration of Academy scientists, the students in the two countries starting this fall will study climate change issues together online through the practical lenses of culture, water, and food. They will communicate across continents using Facebook, Twitter and other online tools. Their virtual exchanges will be carefully timed to take into consideration the 12-hour time difference.

Through the months, the students will absorb the ecological principles they will use to create an electronic museum program guide that will be used to train student museum “explainers.” The explainers will share their newfound cultural and climate change knowledge with Academy visitors through short programs and interactive activities that they will have developed.

The students also will give presentations at community festivals such as the annual Philadelphia Science Festival. And they will develop an after-school curriculum on climate change and its impact on the different cultures. They will be charting new territory.

“We don’t know what they’ll come up with,” says Genovesi. “We want the teens to actually develop these materials so that we get climate change from their viewpoint. While an emphasis will be on cultural exchange—building bridges between nations and students—we want to build science and understanding that is generated by these young women.”

Of the 15 participating students in the nationally recognized WINS program, five will earn the opportunity to travel to Mongolia for two weeks in summer 2015. Similarly, five of the 15 Mongolian girls selected from a program in their country called ROOTS will spend two weeks with their Philadelphia “pen pals” in April 2015.

Participation in this Museums Connect project is made possible by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Administered by the American Alliance of Museums, Museums Connect pairs museums in the U.S. with museums abroad for a cross-cultural exchange that brings people, especially youth, together to open a dialogue through community projects, partnerships with local or tribal governments and schools, and local events.

WINS girls on a field trip to a Delaware  marsh.
WINS girls on a field trip to a Delaware marsh

Why Mongolia?

“What I do in Delaware affects Pennsylvania. One part of the world affects the other,” says Geré Johnson, a junior at Mathematics, Science and Civics Charter School of Philadelphia.

“We don’t think about what we do here, but everything we do affects others and will affect our kids’ kids,” remarks Tenzin Chemi.

Mongolia is a country with a rich history (think Genghis Khan), unique cultural traditions, and varied environmental features. It is also one of the regions most impacted by climate change: between 1940 and 2012 the temperature warmed by 3.8 degrees F. This substantial rise in temperature has caused changes including pasture grasses to become scarce, making it difficult for the large herder population to properly prepare their animals for the harsh winters, and thus affecting their livelihoods.

The Academy’s scientific work in Mongolia began in 1994 when Dr. Clyde Goulden
started researching climate change and its effect on Mongolia’s herders and one of the most pristine lakes in the world, Lake Hövsgöl. During a 20-year partnership, Goulden and Academy entomologists and ichthyologists have conducted research and have trained a new generation of Mongolian scientists.

Museum visitors in the months ahead can look forward to learning about climate change through today’s experiences of the WINS students.

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