District: Morris-Union Jointure Commission (MUJC)
Location: Union County, New Jersey, USA
Number of Schools: 2
Number of Faculty: 216
Number of Students: 232
School Mission: To provide services and programs to meet the needs of its 30 constituent school districts. The MUJC continually expands its programs and services to meet the growing needs of its educational community.
“It’s really great!”
“Students having the opportunity to collaborate with other students from around the world has been an invaluable educational opportunity. I am truly proud to be a part of this movement.”
“As a founding school district of Climate Action Schools, our students are gaining essential knowledge of how climate is the basis for life, how to work purposefully to create means of saving and creating resources, and how to form relationships with students from all over the world.”
Students at MUJC researched native plants and animals to determine a keystone species that best represents their school and their region. MUJC students selected the Swamp Milkweed. Here is what they have learned.
- Swamp Milkweed attracts monarch butterflies which are listed as an endangered species in New Jersey.
- Swamp Milkweed has diminished over the state of New Jersey because of the overdevelopment.
- Swamp Milkweed grows best in a moist meadow.
Climate Action Schools Country Matched Partnerships
Climate Education for all: Including and empowering students with disabilities
A New Jersey School District for Students with Special Needs takes Action for the Planet
In June 2020, the First Lady of New Jersey announced that the New Jersey Board of Education had adopted her initiative to make New Jersey the first state in the United States to incorporate climate education across K-12 learning standards. The adoption led to having climate education added to all subjects at every grade level. Comprehensive recommendations advised district leaders to move swiftly and to consider professional learning, curricular resources, community-based climate education, and support from the Board of Education in their planning processes.
“The [New Jersey Climate Change Education Student Learning] Standards do three things: They encourage
knowledge and learning. They encourage purpose. And, they are about relationships.” Morris-Union Jointure Commission (MUJC) Superintendent Dr. Janet Fike was one of the first New Jersey district leaders to take action on the new state climate initiative. Dr. Fike’s NJ school district serves students with special needs, including autism, multiple disabilities, and emotional regulation impairment, from approximately 80 different school districts. The MUJC provides quality education for their students with varying disabilities supporting each student to work toward New Jersey Student Learning Standards set forth in their individualized educational program. Instructional areas include academics, social emotional learning, recreational skills, such as swimming and esports, and community-based learning. “Education and Standards are all about having productive means of being life-long learners,” Dr. Fike shared at Climate Action Day in 2022.
Along with her team of school leaders and classroom teachers, Dr. Fike set out to take action on climate education within her district. MUJC became one of the first districts in New Jersey to join as a Climate Action School. They have committed as a full district to meeting the K12 Standards and to ensuring that their students are showing the world the importance of climate education for all–that anyone, anywhere can contribute and can make a difference for our world.
Ensuring Access to Opportunities
When setting out to respond to the climate education Standards in New Jersey and find a climate education program, the team at MUJC knew they wanted a different type of learning experience for their students. Their classrooms prioritized life skills and workforce training. Their students didn’t just read about ways to help others,
they embedded service into all areas of learning, including a walk for autism, sewing blankets for people who are displaced, baking for food pantries, and collecting clothing in sock and coat drives. In their schools, they believe there is power in connecting students to the community and in connecting the community to them with everyone seeing what is possible when working together.
Their climate education program goals included:
- Opportunities to connect students to the local and global community
- Real-world experiences for students (not just reading about climate change in a textbook)
- High quality, personalized professional development for faculty and staff
- Meeting schools from around the world
- Serving as an example of climate education for all for the state, the nation, and the world and showcasing the gifts and ideas of students with special needs and autism
- Build on current MUJC environmental initiatives
Morris-Union Jointure Commission schools joined as Founding Climate Action Schools in the summer of 2022. Since joining, they have participated in professional development, presented at state and international conferences, partnered with six international schools, and engaged students in climate education activities. Dr. Fike reflected on their experience during an address on Climate Action Day to an international audience. “Our Climate Action Schools [program] provides something for everyone. It allows our students to be involved in a front-and-center issue and have meaningful interaction and dialogue and be part of it, no matter what their ability level is.”
What are your biggest hopes and dreams as a Climate Action School?
We caught up with Assistant Superintendent Denise Smallacomb. She shared her biggest hopes and dreams for their students as part of the Climate Action Schools program.
We hope that our students and teachers will connect with others and learn from their peers around the world on what they are doing to make a positive impact on the environment. Additionally, we hope for students around the world to see how students with disabilities can and are positive contributors to solving challenges, such as climate change, in today’s world. Learning that together, no matter our differences, positive change is possible!
For far too long, exciting opportunities for growth and development have been targeted to a typical population. Every single person on our planet can contribute to the climate initiative. This program gives a voice to our students.
Climate Action Day
Students from MUJC were invited to speak at the Climate Action Day international event in November 2022. Three elementary students represented the district and the state of New Jersey for the NASA session. They were able to experience a full presentation process with preparing questions, joining in a virtual backstage, and then the big moment of the interview where they met United States NASA Astronaut TJ Creamer and Mars Expedition Scientists Rick Davis and Bob Collum. The students had three fantastic questions ready for the NASA panel:
- Have you been to other planets?
- Do you dance and jump in space?
- Have you seen an alien?
Their interview was seen by schools from around the world with classrooms from 150 countries joining. Their laughter and excitement fueled the event and brought joy and optimism to the conversation around climate action. Later, First Lady Tammy Murphy
presented sharing “We’re really looking forward to understanding what state will be the second state to work together with New Jersey because we can’t do it on our own.”
Link to video clip https://watch.screencastify.com/v/QZcqqe37fe575KwT2kME
Climate Actions at MUJC
- At DLC NP, students are gaining awareness on recycling plastics, and why it is so important to the environment and climate, focusing on plastics in ocean pollution, microplastics, and the effects on the ecosystem.
- At the DLC-Warren, students are revitalizing the Greenhouse after neglect during COVID. The goal for the year will be to have the students select plants that are native to our region that can be grown throughout the school in the greenhouse.
- Classes are researching plants native to our area that will help attract native pollinators back into our area. In addition some students are studying how planting and working in a greenhouse will decrease the school’s overall carbon footprint.
- MUJC is working on organizing a team of certified staff members to help grow the climate education programs.
- MUJC educators have participated in the Climate Action Educator certification program.
- Featured activities:
- LEGO School-to-Home Mini Missions
- School Climate Action Visioning Activity
- School Keystone Species Activity
- School Asset Mapping and Climate Inventory
- Tracking actions and impact with the EarthProject app
- Climate Champions Monthly Meetups
- Monthly School Virtual Assemblies
- School matching with Ukraine, Indonesia, USA, Taiwan, and Ireland
- Featured district for Program Press Release
- Featured speakers for Climate Action Day (2 sessions)
- Featured session for TECHSPO
- Presentation to NJ state superintendents at Seton Hall
- Presentation to MUJC Board of Directors
- Presentation to NJ Technology Directors
Spreading Awareness through Professional Sharing
Assistant Superintendent Denise Smallacomb joined Dr. Jennifer Williams and Dr. Riley Justis of Take Action Global for a session at the state level educational technology leadership conference in New Jersey to share a session for superintendents and school leaders: Go Global! Virtual Class-to-Class Connections for Climate Action. They were joined by First Lady of New Jersey, Tammy Murphy as she shared a message to the school leaders on the importance of climate action education and support for the Climate Action Schools in MUJC and across the state. MUJC invites districts to join in the work of climate education through awareness, quarterly professional development offerings, and collaborative social sharing on their social media pages.
MUJC schools hope to lead the way for New Jersey districts and for schools around the world that serve students with special needs. Dr. Fike shared, “When we were invited to be part of Climate Action Schools, I wasn’t quite sure where the road would take us. And, isn’t that what life is about? I can tell you, after being involved in the Climate Action Schools and living with our Standards, it is truly what education is all about.”