New Jersey first state to introduce climate change curriculum in schools

NEW YORK — New Jersey public school students will be the first in the country required to learn about climate change while in the classroom starting this school year.

"Climate change is becoming a real reality," New Jersey first lady Tammy Murphy, who spearheaded the initiative, told "ABC News Live" on Thursday.

The new standards were adopted by the state's board of education in 2020, but because of the pandemic, the roll out was halted, giving educators and districts more time to prepare the lesson plans for all students in grades K-12.

"The districts themselves are able to design whatever it is that the way they want to implement and interpret this new education standard," said Murphy.

Lessons will focus on how climate change has accelerated in recent decades and how it's impacted public health, human society, and contributed to natural disasters.

"You can look around the world, whether it's Pakistan that has a third of the country under water right now, or wildfires raging across the United States, and droughts in Asia," said Murphy. "Here in our own backyard in New Jersey, we have our own challenges. Whether it's sea level rise or microburst or algae blooms."

The program will also introduce students to careers in climate change, as federal and local officials work to combat natural disasters and create a greener economy by adding new jobs and increased funding.

"I want to make sure that the next generation of students and those who come after have the skill set necessary to be able to win and succeed at the incredible jobs that are going to be available as we all shift towards a greener economy," said Murphy.

Last month, President Joe Biden's Inflation Reduction Act was passed, which aims to tackle climate change and analysts believe that it can create as many as 1.5 to 9 million new jobs in construction, manufacturing and service over the next 10 years.

In his first address to the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday, the president said we're "already living in a climate crisis."

"No one seems to doubt it after this past year," Biden said. "Choosing which child to feed and wondering whether they will survive. This is the human cost of climate change. And it is growing."

Over the past few years, many state and local officials have taken action to involve their communities in the fight against climate change. Gov. Phil Murphy allocated $5 million in the fiscal 2023 state budget for climate education in March.

"A top priority of my administration has been to reestablish New Jersey's role as a leader in the fight against climate change," the governor said in a statement.

To help educators adapt to this new curriculum, the state launched the New Jersey Climate Change Education Hub, which gives teachers access to lesson plans, educational videos, and professional development.

The first lady said that while creating this program, she traveled to at least 10-15 schools and found that climate change was already being taught to some degree in most classroom settings. She added that having it as a requirement is necessary to ensure all students have the same learning opportunities, as they do with other required subjects.

Murphy added that within just the first month of the school year, teachers have expressed their excitement towards the curriculum, and that the state "has gotten great initial feedback."

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