SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – A Santa Fe program is challenging New Mexico students to find simple solutions to the worsening climate threat. Climate Innovation Challenge is an educational program under the umbrella of the Climate Advocates Voces Unidas (CAVU)The nonprofit blends visual storytelling and community engagement to support local solutions to the global climate issue.

The Climate Innovation Challenge was started and implemented in the 2019-2020 school year. The program seeks to provide hands-on activities for New Mexico students to teach climate science, adaptability and video production. Last school year, the program had five New Mexico schools involved in the program. This year, there are 40 schools around the state participating virtually.

Education Director Phil Lucero said he likes to refer to it as “scientific storytelling” to describe the program. “The curriculum prepares these students to participate in a challenge, and the challenge is to come up with an innovative, unique idea on how we can adapt to a worsening climate threat,” Lucero said. “It’s really up to the students to identify a threat that they want to focus on and we encourage them to think globally but adapt locally.”

Adapting locally means students are asked to find something on a small scale that impacts their life or community and try to find a solution to a climate threat. Middle and high school classes work on one six-part project throughout the year. The curriculum is completely free and culminates to an end of the year showcase where students can present their projects and win cash prizes. This year, that showcase will be held virtually in April.

Robin Koval, a middle school science teacher at Santa Fe Preparatory, is one of the many teachers who has her class participating in the challenge for the 2020-2021 school year. She’s been wanting to incorporate more on the topic of how climate change is affecting the plants and animals in the state. “I thought it was a great opportunity to approach climate change from the perspective of what can we do about it versus what it will do to us,” Koval said. “I like the way the CAVU program is looking at how kids can actually start think about this and come up with solutions that adapt to climate impacts. It incorporates action in addition to their research.”

Koval said the program works into her science curriculum to connect everything they’re learning about together. She has students who want to create habitats for birds and bees on their school campus, and another student who wants to do something with the climate impact of wildfires. “He wants to go to legislation to try to give out free permits for firewood so that we can clear some of the dry, dead wood in our forests,” Koval said.

Doing these projects has made a positive impact on students, Koval said, because they are engaging in topics that they choose and are interesting to them. Students are encouraged to solve problems within their home or community. Doing so in turn has given them a sense of hope that they can do something positive to impact their state. “Instead of the doom and gloom they hear about climate change, they can learn about how to adapt to the conditions we are already seeing and make their home a better place,” Koval said.

Lucero said students will choose their topic and do research on it, and they are encouraged to reach out to local experts on the topic to teach them about the research process. He wants students to take away from the program a sense of what they can accomplish. “I want them to take away a sense of their own ability, and their own responsibility to be part of the solution,” Lucero said. “One person is going to have a minimal effect, but if we work together, bring in people and work as a team because it’s about building community.”

To learn more about the program, visit their website at View last year’s high school winner present her project at the 2020 showcase.

Read Next: