Annual event focuses high schools on the environment


Focus often eludes high school students with seven different classes covering seven different subjects and too much homework to jam in their backpacks at the end of the day – but on Thursday, April 5, EcoCentric and Envirocity, West’s and City’s environmental clubs, teamed up with local non-profit Iowa City Summer of Solutions to concentrate class discussions on one issue: the environment.

The daylong event, Focus the Classroom, encouraged teachers to relate the subjects they teach to current environmental issues. In addition, the environmental groups invited teachers at both high schools to bring their classes to see presentations from environmental leaders in the Iowa City community, including Tim Dwight – a City High graduate and former professional football player.

Since retiring from the San Diego Chargers, Dwight has co-founded a renewable energy company called Integrated Power Corporation. At the Focus the Classroom event, he gave a presentation extolling the virtues – and sensibility – of solar energy.

“This shift [to renewable energy] that I’m going to talk about is your generational shift, and it’s going to be massive. Producing energy with wind and solar will change the world because those resources are available anywhere, and you’re going to see it,” he told students at West High school.

Dwight was joined by others including New Pioneer Outreach and Education coordinator Scott Koepke, Iowa City recycling coordinator Jen Jordan and University of Iowa Director of Sustainability Liz Christiansen. The speakers brought everything from live red wriggler worms to a battery-powered experiment that converted salt water into bleach.

“A lot of times, as much as teachers try to bring in outside applications of what we’re studying, it’s really nice that we can see how to take what we’re learning and apply it to the world around us. You can actually go out and change things … and Focus the Classroom really reminds us of that,” said West High senior Javier Miranda-Bartlett, a member of EcoCentric and participant in the day’s activities.

According to Zach Gruenhagen, Summer of Solutions program leader and one of Focus the Classroom’s main organizers, this heightened awareness about the practical applications of environmentalism was one of the main objectives of the event.

“I think it’s a chance to both build community among [the University of Iowa, the Iowa City community and the local high schools], and also among generations. It also highlights how environmental studies are so interdisciplinary and reach people across many professions and interests,” Gruenhagen said.

According to Miranda-Bartlett, the message definitely reached the students in attendance.

“[My favorite part was seeing] the enthusiasm my classmates had for the whole concept and just how they actually got pumped, which surprised me. Also, [I loved] discovering that we have this wealth of resources of really knowledgeable people that are willing to help and work with us, and it was really empowering,” Miranda-Bartlett said.