Storytelling school

Penn Environmental Humanities Program to Host Climate Week Storytelling Event

Kelly Writer’s House on April 20. Credit: Derek Wong

This Wednesday and Thursday, Penn will host a series of climate storytelling events including a reading and interactive program with a storyteller and climate reporter. Devi Lockwood and workshops led by Cosmic Writers.

” Listen ! Climate Storytelling with Devi Lockwood” is a two-day program that will be presented by My Philadelphia Climate Story – a public research project run by the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities – and the Kelly Writers House. The project participants – nine teachers and their students who attend secondary schools in the city – will be able to meet for the first time during the program and participate in climate storytelling activities together.

On Wednesday, the Kelly Writers House will host Lockwood for a reading and reception. The following morning, Lockwood will host an interactive program at the Irvine Auditorium. After that, students can attend a writing workshop led by cosmic writers based on their unique interests, with titles ranging from “Flash Floods and Flash Fiction” to “Nature Poetry” to “Climate Journalism.”

Bethany Wiggin, PPEH’s founding faculty director and professor of German language and literature, founded My Philadelphia Climate Story in 2020 after realizing how sea level rise was impacting the health of trees on the coast of Maine, where she grew up.

“I started thinking, ‘What if we could help more people recognize how climate change is affecting their lives?'” Wiggin said.

The My Climate Story team – made up of Wiggin and three PPEH undergraduate interns – developed a storytelling program as a campaign to document and share the climate impact stories of students living in Philadelphia. Although they weren’t able to visit local schools in person during the pandemic, they designed workshops and an online textbook to teach high school students how to write and have conversations about climate change.

Wiggin stressed the importance of integrating climate change education into the humanities as well as science lessons.

“I think literature and the other arts have incredible value as companions to the hard numbers of climate change,” Wiggin said, “because they help us understand emotion, why numbers matter from the point of view of humans.”

To show this perspective, the My Climate Story team has developed a bank of stories where individuals can submit their personal experiences with climate change. The stories spanned 15 different languages ​​and over 20 countries. The team also filmed a documentary where high school teachers and Penn faculty and students discussed their views on the effects of climate change.

This year, My Climate Story is partnering with nine high schools in Philadelphia to research, document and share the city’s climate stories. The team chose nine teachers who teach a wide range of subjects – from history to biology – to reflect the transdisciplinary focus of the project. Four PPEH interns – College sophomore Emma Davey, 2022 Graduate School of Education graduate Emma Fogel, College senior Ikym Simon and 2022 College graduate Rachel Swym – spent the summer documenting the unique environmental challenges of each school.

The campaign is funded by Penn’s SAS Making a Difference grant to address societal issues locally, nationally and internationally.

“The goal was to look at where the schools are with fresh eyes, and also to see how the building itself interacts with climate change,” Davey said. “How these students are going to interact with climate change in a program is going to be very different.”

During the 2022-2023 school year, My Climate Story will also work with Cosmic Writers to deliver workshops to partner schools. Cosmic Writers is a nonprofit organization, founded by 2022 College graduate Rowana Miller, that provides creative writing training for K-12 students. The instructors, who are undergraduate students, will lead workshops during the “Listen Up! event on October 13, spanning multiple genres – memoir, poetry, fiction and journalism.

Starting in November, Cosmic Writers will also work with selected Student Ambassadors for an intensive year-long workshop, culminating in a climate storytelling festival in the spring.

The goal of the workshop is to “bring these students together, work with them on their writing to prepare for the festival, and generally give them a sense of themselves as people who write about how the climate change is shaping the lives of teens in Philadelphia,” Miller said.

Last spring, the My Climate Story team presented the project to the mayor of Philadelphia with support from the Penn Office of Sustainability. They will return to city council this spring, where climate classes from each school will present their stories.

Wiggins said that by sharing the various climate impacts in their communities, students in climate classrooms can draw attention to the need for climate justice in local education and physical infrastructure.

While the gathering will center My Climate Story attendees, Wiggin emphasizes that everyone is welcome.

“Climate affects everything,” Wiggin said. “We all have a climate story.”