Neelam Patil was named one of TIME’s top ten teachers for her work using “pocket forests” to show students how they can make a difference in the fight against climate change.
For her efforts introducing micro-forests to three Berkeley schools and demonstrating to kids they can “do something about climate change,” science teacher Neelam Patil was named one of ten inventive teachers altering the country’s education landscape by TIME magazine.
The award recognizes teachers who went above and beyond to provide students with unique and relevant learning opportunities.
Patil spearheaded a project at Cragmont, Malcolm X, and King schools last year to transplant Miyawaki forests — super-dense, biodiverse, fast-growing forests — to small sections of schoolyards. The 3,300 plants were planted in November by the students.
“Climate change is such an overwhelming issue. And oftentimes my students feel, and I feel, very hopeless… This is just a very, very targeted solution that people can get extremely excited about,” Patil said.
Patil is a science teacher at Cragmont and Oxford elementary schools.
The prize recognizes Patil’s efforts to motivate people to take action rather than be pessimistic in the face of a mounting climate disaster.
Indy Stone, a fifth-grader at Cragmont, said “There is something we can do about climate change as kids and part of that is planting trees.”
Miyawaki forests grow 10 times quicker, store 40 times more carbon, and are 100 times more biodiverse than monoculture forests typical of forestry initiatives. Patil teamed up with SuGi, a group that specializes in pocket trees, to get them planted.
This is the first year that TIME has given this prize to teachers who use creativity or technology to engage his or her students. The 10 teachers selected “despite all the challenges of this 2021/22 school year, are changing the landscape of education.”
Teachers who assisted students with impairments achieve jobs in STEM fields, made unaccompanied immigrant children feel welcome in the United States, and created anti-racism video game lessons are among the other award winners.
“The fact that students can learn about deforestation, which is a primary contributor to climate change, and actually do something tangible as part of their learning experience to address this issue is pretty empowering,” said School Board Director Ana Vasudeo, whose sons, Kavi and Sebastian, are in Patil’s class.
Planting the forests, according to Patil, “activated a whole new generation of children,” who are now motivated and educated about what they can do to combat climate change.
Patil is the leader of the Green Team at Oxford and Cragmont, a student club that teaches others about climate change. Oxford Green Team students developed and directed a short play about the subject this year, and Cragmont students created a documentary.
One of the founding members of the club, which meets during recess, is Kanav Deorah, a fourth-grader at Oxford. “I don’t want to go to recess; I want to save the planet,” he said.
Patil has been striving to get the micro forests planted in other green locations since the planting. She founded Green Pocket Forests to aid others, and she has been working with local and state legislators to increase the number of trees planted in California. Berkeley Unified just pledged to plant three more micro-forests.
“I want a Miyawaki forest in every schoolyard in every city and every park,” Patil stated. She added that her students say they want a micro-forest at every school “in the universe.”
“My goal was to teach my students that, just because you’re 5 years old, 6 years old, you don’t have to watch as our planet goes up in flames,” Patil said.
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