Humboldt Fights St. Paul Pollution With Environmental Education

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Video and text by Jacob Wheeler

“Hopefully we can be a trendsetter for other Saint Paul public schools, and they can be environmental themselves,” says Ramon Page a 17-year-old student at Humboldt High School and passionate environmentalist. “We hear so much about environmental issues and our future well-being. We just want to prevent the situations predicted for the future.”

Humboldt High School sits in an industrial, ethnically diverse and, in parts, polluted neighborhood of Saint Paul south of the Mississippi River. As in other U.S. cities, industrial pollution more disproportionally affects minorities than affluent whites. Residents of such neighborhoods — young people and students, in particular — not understanding or knowing how to combat environmental pollution on their turf can represent a major problem. But Humboldt has found a solution to that problem.

Humboldt stands out among Twin Cities schools for its unique, curriculum-wide environmental studies program. Humboldt boasts an urban agriculture program that features both native and vegetable gardens in its outdoor classroom and an ambitious environmental advisory council. Humboldt’s teachers have trained with Hamline University staff for global environmental education in order to integrate environmental studies and college career training throughout the school.

Award winning program

Last month, Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman presented Humboldt with the Environmental Awareness Award, “recognizing programs and concepts which develop skills and attitudes necessary to understand the interrelatedness among humans, culture and the environment.”

Mayor Coleman added that students at Humboldt have constructed raised vegetable beds for urban agricultural projects, handicapped accessible vegetable herb beds, planted native gardens around the school that created habitat and rain gardens to capture runoff from roofs.

“The kids are becoming student leaders in environmental issues,” said teacher Jodie Prohaska. “We measured their carbon footprint recently, and they found that, living in a city, they actually have a smaller footprint than if you lived out in a suburb.”

Prohaska’s students have embraced environmental concepts from the simple — recycling household items — to the complex — measuring one’s carbon footprint, and seek to educate others.

“Not everybody does free recycling here in Saint Paul,” offered 16-year-old Salina Samaniego. “We shouldn’t still be using plastics. It would be better if things were biodegradable, like cardboard and paper.”

“We need to education people about these issues,” echoed Page.

Prohaska’s classroom, though inside the school, is a study in nature and ecosystems. Students share the room with baby chickens, rabbits, lizards, fish and plants.

“There’s a purpose for all of this,” explains Page. “Agriculture and animal behavior. It all relates to how they are affected by the environment, their habitats, and the things they do in their everyday lives.”

On Saturday, May 14, Humboldt High School students and teachers will hold a Roaring River Rendezvous at a part of the Mississippi River that the school has adopted.

“Students learn about the river in all of their classes and content areas — math, science, English, social studies, language, arts and music,” says Prohaska. “So this is their opportunity to show off what they know about the river.

“We’re gonna have younger children and family members come and do fun environmental activities and spread the word,” adds Page.

Jacob Wheeler

In addition to shooting videos for The UpTake, Jacob Wheeler is a contributing editor at the progressive political magazine In These Times, publishes the Glen Arbor Sun in his native Michigan, and authored "Between Light and Shadow," a recent book about the Guatemalan adoption industry. Wheeler's stories have appeared in such magazines as the Utne Reader, Earth Island Journal, Rotarian and Teaching Tolerance magazine, and newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle and Christian Science Monitor. He speaks fluent Spanish, German and Danish.

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