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Act Locally: Ashland teacher’s climate change class a hit

Ashland High School science instructor Jim Hartman is one of those lucky individuals who has been able to parlay his life’s passion both into a career path, as well as volunteer service to the community. He met his wife, Maggie Sullivan, while they were enrolled in a masters of public health degree program at the University of Michigan.

Jim’s academic focus was on water quality management and environmental education. However, it was his wife’s interest in reproductive health that eventually brought the couple to Ashland in 1990, so she could work for Planned Parenthood. After four years of instructing at risk youth, Jim was hired by the Ashland School District.

For the past 24 years Jim had been teaching science classes at the high school. Basic biology has consistently been the linchpin of his course load. Until recently he also taught urban ecology to all grade levels, and Advanced Placement Environmental Science to 11th and 12th graders. However, for the 2018-19 school year, he has decided to create a new course, Climate Change Solutions.

This class will introduce students to many of the same environmental issues Jim brought to the city of Ashland’s attention as a member of an Ad Hoc committee that developed the Ashland Climate and Energy Action Plan (CEAP). With a strong emphasis on earth science, energy, and natural systems, students can count this new course towards their science requirement, as either a life science or a physical science class.

While Jim has taught units on climate change for almost 30 years, he knew that he was taking a risk by creating a new, untried educational program; if a sufficient number of students did not preregister, the district could not offer the course. To the contrary, so many students voiced interest in participating that there will be three sections of the course, with 30 students in each. In addition to the main textbook, “Drawdown” (Hawkens, 2017), students will read portions of the 406-page city Climate and Energy Action Plan, and several other science-based discussions on the environment. Moreover, students will engage in numerous field trips and hands-on projects. They will be visiting forests and wetlands, building a solar panel from scratch, and conducting scientific tests on a batch of biochar (an experimental form of soil supplement) to investigate exactly how much carbon can be reintroduced and stored by soil. (For more information on biochar, see www.drawdown.org/solutions/food/biochar.)

When asked for a suggestion for one gesture that the general public could make to help collectively reduce carbon emissions (besides encouraging people to peruse his Ashland Climate and Energy Action Plan (bit.ly/coaceap), Jim recommended: “What I’d like to see readers do is to use less gasoline ASAP, perhaps by making their next car electric.” (Both biochar and the leasing/purchasing of electric vehicles will be featured in upcoming Act Locally columns.)

Jim also made a plea for community support to enable the Ashland School District to purchase the rather daunting 90 copies of the course textbook. Readers wishing to help can write checks to Ashland High School, and indicate they want the funds to be directed to the new “Climate Change Solutions Class.”

For further questions, Jim can be reached at: jim.hartman@ashland.k12.or.us or by calling the high school, 541- 482-8771.

— Ashland resident, author and anthropologist Nina Egert has been a lay environmentalist since the early 1970s.

Photo by Nina EgertAshland High School science instructor Jim Hartman examines a pine branch.