CUER Brings Environmental Justice to City Classrooms
The Center for Urban Environmental Reform (CUER) at the City University of New York School of Law is helping to bring environmental justice to classrooms with the release of its comic book Mayah’s Lot. Mayah, the heroine of the comic and accompanying video, teaches young learners about environmental justice and introduces them to concepts of street science, basic administrative procedures, and effective community organizing.
This week, CUER begins a six-week educational workshop at PS85 in Astoria, Queens, with 100 fifth graders. The workshop will use a curriculum built around Mayah’s Lot to help students cultivate an understanding of environmental law and environmental justice, and also to help them develop more sophisticated advocacy and fact-based reasoning skills. On May 31, CUER will begin a similar four-week workshop with PS122 with more than 100 sixth graders.
“I wanted a non-traditional way to bring environmental messages to my daughter’s generation and especially to urban youth,” said Rebecca Bratspies, professor of law at CUNY and director of CUER. “Too many city dwellers think that ‘the environment’ exists elsewhere, rather than in the places where they live, work, learn, and play. Mayah’s Lot helps readers understand that environmentalism is not just about protecting the wilderness but also about protecting their own neighborhoods.”
To develop Mayah’s Lot, Bratspies collaborated with graphic artist Charlie LaGreca of Comicbook Classroom and a group of middle-school students at PS122 (The Mamie Fay School) in Queens, New York. “It was amazing to see how engaged our students were using academic skills to tackle a real-world problem,” said Dimitria Kamaris, a teacher at PS122. “We strive to have our students personally invested in their own education, and through Mayah’s Lot and its curriculum, we’ve been able to do just that.”
CUER developed its lesson plans for a range of grade levels that work with the core curriculum and are suitable for classroom adoption, with support from the Greening Western Queens Fund of the North Star Fund, CUNY School of Law, and the U.S. Forest Service.?? These materials will be available from the CUER website.
“I am so impressed by Mayah’s Lot. EPA has used the comic book form before to deliver information to targeted audiences,” said Cliff Villa, assistant regional counsel at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 10, “but I’ve never seen anything approaching the artistic and literary quality of Mayah’s Lot.”
Mayah’s Lot is the first project of CUER, which promotes environmental democracy as a critical aspect of social justice. It seeks to expand participation in public decision-making and to increase transparency and overall access to information to enhance both the legitimacy of environmental decision-making processes and the fairness of decisions reached.