Al Gore’s Climate Conference Attended by Three Members of the K-12 Team

Wow, what an amazing opportunity that we had and never shared! Time for a throwback post. Last October, three members of the K-12 Team attended a 3-day conference hosted by the Climate Reality Leadership Corps in order to gain more knowledge about climate change. The Climate Reality Leadership Project is an organization founded in response to the climate crisis that our currently world faces. Former Vice President Al Gore founded the Climate Reality Leadership Project. Over 1,400 people from Pittsburgh and all over the world convened for this event. The Climate Reality Leadership Project aims to train everyday citizens on how to best tackle climate change through becoming effective climate communicators.

Following opening remarks from the CEO of the Climate Reality Leadership Project, we heard Mayor Bill Peduto speak passionately about the city of Pittsburgh by outlining Pittsburgh’s resilient past and how the steel city is laying the foundation for a resilient future. Pittsburgh is a city that has reinvented itself by adapting to change and is continuously transforming to align with a greener, more sustainable world.

Former Vice President Al Gore lead multiple discussion panels on climate change. Attendees heard from world renowned scientists, like Dr. Michael E. Mann and Dr. Jennifer Francis, who both discussed cutting edge climate science.

The first panel held on the first day of the Conference, the social justice panel, was the most memorable. The climate and social justice panel helped set the tone for the whole conference by demonstrating climate change (or sustainability) is not just about being “green”. Attendees learned more about local environmental justice issues from three social justice leaders in Pittsburgh, including Fred Brown, who was the President and CEO of the Homewood Children’s Village at the time.

Conference attendees witnessed Al Gore’s famous slideshow presentation, you know, the one that was featured in “An Inconvenient Sequel.” In the presentation, Al Gore went over both the current and future issues surrounding global climate change. Some of us are familiar with rising tides, droughts, and increased forest fires as harsh realities of climate change, but did you know that significant precipitation events are also a result of anthropogenic climate change? We learned more about the deadly impacts of storms and climate change, including the devastating hurricanes that had just hit Puerto Rico, the Caribbean Islands, Houston, and Florida earlier this year.

The last few slides of Mr. Gore’s presentation ended on an uplifting note, inspiring attendees to continue the fight towards reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. Humans across the globe have managed to exceed previous expectations regarding renewable energy generation, proving mitigating climate change is possible. Likewise, Al Gore’s presentation demonstrated that CO2 emissions have begun to stabilize, offering a window of opportunity for global citizens to reduce their carbon footprints and decrease overall greenhouse gas emissions.

One great aspect of the conference involved the breakout sessions available. Each attendee had the opportunity to learn more about climate change related issues in depth. For example, attendees could choose to view presentations on fossil fuel development and health, organizing communities for renewable energy, or climate change presentation tips.

By attending the conference, each attendee is responsible for 10 separate acts of leadership on fighting climate change. Acts of leadership include writing letters to newspaper editors, organizing climate action campaigns, and mimicking Al Gore through presenting slideshows on climate change. Each Conference attendee has access to Al Gore’s presentation slides at his/her disposal. Now is the time to have climate change conversations with your family, especially with the holidays approaching. Speak to your cousins, your aunt, or your uncle about why climate change is important to you, and how we have the tools to solve it.

The Climate Reality Leadership Conference was hosted at the David Lawrence Convention Center (a LEED Gold complex) and was sponsored by the Heinz Endowments. Importantly, each day of the conference had plant-based food options available, because of the environmental implications surrounding the consumption of meat. Additionally, the Climate Reality Conference stressed waste management, as seen through the numerous composting bins located throughout the event.

The K-12 Team is incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to learn more about climate change and interact with 1,400 other like-minded individuals. The K-12 Program will look to incorporate more climate change knowledge into our activities following this awesome event. Each member of the conference now has the tools to help solve climate change, so the next step involves educating others about the knowledge gained.

Members of Chatham University gathered and took a picture outside of the entrance to the Climate Reality Leadership Conference tables.

A Sustainable Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time to gather with loved ones and reflect on what you have to be thankful for while filling up on turkey and pumpkin pie. But, did you know that it is also one of the most wasteful times of the year? Americans on average waste 6 billion turkeys (which take an estimated 100 billion gallons of water to raise) every year at Thanksgiving. How can you make Thanksgiving more sustainable, and work on some of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals while you’re at it? Follow the tips and tricks below!

  • The first step in reducing waste? Reduce the amount of food you buy! While it’s easy to get caught up in providing a feast for all your guests, take a minute to step back and think about how much you really need. This “Guestimator” developed by Save the Food Inc. will help you determine how much food you need to keep your guests full and happy.
  • You have the list of ingredients, the menu set, and now the only thing left to do is head to the grocery store, or a local farmers market. Local food producers and markets can be a sustainable choice when buying food, as these options tend to create CO2 emissions from the farm to your plate. It also helps support local farmers, so definitely a win-win situation.  If you don’t have a farmer’s market open mid- November by you, consider buying “ugly” fruits and vegetables at the grocery store, especially ones that will get mashed or put into pies, as these are the types of products that usually don’t get sold, and eventually are thrown out and wasted.
  • Dinner has been served on reusable dishware, and everyone is full as can be – but there are still scraps left on plates! Instead of throwing them away, think about starting a compost pile and get something useful out of those scraps. Click here to check out a guide that will show you how easy it can be to start a compost pile in your home. Live in an apartment with limited space, or just don’t have the need for fresh compost? Consider finding a communal compost bin near you.
  • Used the Guestimator but still have leftovers? Send some home with family and friends, or better yet, check out these leftover recipes to keep the Thanksgiving spirit going for the rest of the week! Invite your friends over to share in the leftovers and practice Sustainable Development Goal #11 – Sustainable Communities. Extra unopened cans of vegetables that never made it to the casserole? Donate those to a local food bank to practice Sustainable Development Goal #2 – No Hunger.

In fact, sustainable environmental interactions like composting and minimizing waste are deeply rooted in Native American traditions and those of other indigenous cultures. Organizations like the United Nations are studying and incorporating indigenous knowledge into plans for our global sustainable future. Check out this 2016 report: “Indigenous knowledge and implications for the sustainable development agenda.”

In that vein, it’s critical that we think about the social sustainability and responsibility of celebrating a holiday which marks the beginning of a dark and painful history for the Indigenous peoples of North America, especially the Wampanoag. Some Native communities recognize Thanksgiving as a Day of Mourning. Consider learning more about the land you live on this Thanksgiving – what Indigenous nation calls this land home? What is their history, what are their traditions, and what are their current activities? Visit your local Native American community center, and learn more about the people in your community whose ancestors were here long before the settlers landed on Plymouth Rock. To learn more about the native land you call home, click here.

Instead of rushing out to buy consumer goods on Black Friday, take time to recognize that the day after Thanksgiving is also National American Indian Heritage Day. How can you recognize this day, and the histories and modern truths of Indigenous peoples behind the American myths we tell, with your friends and family? Sustainability is also about reducing inequalities (Sustainable Development Goal #10). According to the U.S. Census and quoted in this research article on poverty and health disparities in Indigenous communities, over “one-quarter of the American Indian and Alaska Native population is living in poverty, a rate that is more than double that of the general population.” How might these inequitable conditions have started with the actual histories and be perpetuated by the related stories, myths and stereotypes we continue to tell around Thanksgiving? How might we be in a different place in our global environmental story if the western, dominant narrative had not suppressed indigenous histories and knowledge traditions?

We at the Chatham K-12 Program hope you can use these tools to have a thoughtful, warm, sustainable, and socially conscious Thanksgiving this year!

Second Annual “Seeds of Change” Conference Highlights Student Voice

On Friday, March 9th, 2018, the second annual K-12 sustainable student project conference, “Seeds of Change: Igniting Student Action for Sustainable Communities,” was held at Chatham University’s Eden Hall Campus. 13 different schools and organizations participated, representing 7 different school districts and ranging from 5th through 12th grade. The conference was possible thanks to the generous support of the Heinz Endowments with transportation funding also provided by the Grable Foundation. You can watch a highlight video from the whole day online.

The day started with a keynote from Ayanna Jones, Director of Sankofa Village Community Garden in Homewood. She emphasized that, “change starts with your mind,” and encouraged students to, “go by what you know, not what you hear,” when deciding how to treat or make assumptions about people of different races, ethnicities and cultures. Students then broke into three groups to share their work and get feedback from their attending peers during 3-minute presentations. Break-out groups for 2017 included “Community Building,” “Food and Agriculture,” and “Aquaponics and. Hydroponics.”

After lunch, the students were joined by a group of adult leaders, including elected officials, who were invited to the conference as VIP guests to dialogue with youth participants. Adult and youth leaders sat in small circles and answered the question “How can youth voices lead our region to a more sustainable reality?” The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals guided the discussion, with a special focus question on these goals: “No poverty, ” “Gender Equality,” and “Reducing Inequalities.” This dialogue session was new to the conference this year, and will be repeated in future years. All of our adult leader guests expressed gratitude for this open forum and a desire to participate again next year.  We thank them for their attendance and for making sure all students felt deeply heard. Adult VIP guests included:

  • Jennifer Liptak, Office of the County Executive, Chief of Staff
  • The Hon. Randy Vulakovich, Senator of the 39th District, Allegheny County
  • Melissa Girty, Senator Vulakovich’s Chief of Staff
  • The Hon. Edward Gainey, Representative of the 24th District, Allegheny County
  • Melvin Hubbard El, Representative Gainey’s Staff
  • Shelly Danko+Day, Urban Agriculture and Food Policy Advisor, City of Pittsburgh Resilience Office
  • Ariam Ford, GTECH Project Manager
  • Jim Price, Sustainable Community Coordinator, Sustainable Pittsburgh
  • Anita Prizio, County Councilwoman
  • Ashley Comans, Wilkinsburg School District Board of Directors
  • Lance Harrell, Sankofa Village Community Garden

At the end of the conference, Chatham announced a “Seeds of Change Challenge” for conference participants to have the chance to win $300 towards project implementation. As part of this challenge, teams must submit an action plan that takes their project to the next level by incorporating as many UN Sustainable Development Goals as possible, in a meaningful way. Submissions are due April 13, 2018.

We applaud all of the below student participants for their ongoing work to transform our community and their bravery in sharing their honest ideas with our adult leader guests:

  • Brashear High School – “Community Garden”
  • Schiller STEAM Academy – “Aquaponics”
  • Hampton High School and Highlands High School – “Room to Grow”
  • Manchester Academic Charter School – “Sustainability at MACS”
  • Phipps, Learning for a Greener Future Interns – “Increasing Seasonal Food Awareness in the Pittsburgh Community”
  • Mt. Lebanon High School – (2 projects) “Think Green, Think Big!” and “The Sustainable Classroom”
  • Shaler Area High School – “Sustainable Winter Agriculture”
  • Pine Richland Middle School – “Aquaponics Monitoring Device”
  • Fort Cherry High School – “Maintaining Optimal Living for Tilapia in an Aquaponics System”
  • Shaler Area Elementary School – “Hydroponics in the Classroom”
  • Westinghouse High School – “Student Envoy Leadership Project”
  • Operation Better Block – “Urban Green Practices”

We can’t wait to host “Seeds of Change 2019” next year! We hope to see those who joined us this year back again to share progress and look forward to having new teams involved as well. If you are interested in participating, please contact Eden Hall’s K-12 office at (412)365-2416 or stay tuned for the 2019 conference information to be announced in late summer/early fall 2018.

During this event, Chatham also announced the creation of a new “K-12 Student Sustainable Communities Advisory Group.” Any K-12 students interested in participating, please email

K-12 students dialogue with adult leaders at the Seeds of Change Conference 2018


State Representative Ed Gainey listens to youth ideas for how Western PA can achieve a more sustainable reality.


State Senator Randy Vulakovich and Chatham President David Finegold listen to youth ideas for our sustainable future.


Manchester Academic Charter School students present on “Sustainability at MACS,” which includes taking care of bees and other pollinators.


Mt. Lebanon High School students presenting on individual commitments they made to become more sustainable, including reducing meat intake and conserving water in personal consumption.

Get to Know the New K-12 Staff!

We’d like to introduce you to our four newest staff members! They come from a variety of backgrounds, and we’re so excited for what they’ll bring to the program. With their help, we’ll be developing more field trip activities and lesson plans, keeping our website full of important resources, and expanding on work from previous years. Be sure to say hi when you see them on your next trip to Eden Hall!

Hi everyone! My name is Kai Kyles, and I am excited to have joined the team as the Eden Hall K-12 Social Justice Educator and Project Coordinator. My interest in education and environmental  justice stems from my various experiences related to community organizing, food sovereignty, youth empowerment, and transformative pedagogy. Currently, I’m pursuing a Master of Arts in Food Studies (Food Politics Concentration) at the Falk School of Sustainability & Environment. I plan on supporting the creation of more culturally relevalnt material for various populations served, as well as work to deepen social justice frameworks used in our curriculum & for the broader K-12 paradigm. I look forward to meeting you!



Morgan is from Long Island, New York, and grew up with a fascination for the natural world. Morgan graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2016 with a BA in History, and a Certificate in Leadership. Morgan then spent three weeks in the Galapagos Islands volunteering on a conservation team to protect endemic species like the giant tortoise. Upon graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, Morgan worked for Grades of Green, an environmental education nonprofit in New York City. Morgan helped create, edit, and build Grades of Green’s environmental education activities. Additionally, Morgan loves to find ways to make environmental activities even more fun than they already are! Morgan is a Master’s of Sustainability student at Chatham, and will graduate in 2019. Currently serving as the Graduate Assistant for the K-12 Program, Morgan works on updating the K-12 Resources Page, and crafting new lesson plans/activities. Morgan is interested in how humans can learn from our past environmental mistakes to pave the way for a bright, and green, future. Sustainability education is immensely important, and can help our generation, and the generation below ours, learn the tools to effectively live sustainably within our planetary boundaries. Morgan enjoys camping, sci fi movies, exercising, astronomy, and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Julia is a our Sustainability Educator.  She has experiences and passions for educating on farming, soils, waste management/waste reduction efforts (in particular with schools), eliminating litter, watershed education, and more!  If it has anything to do with the environment and people, Julia likes to get involved.  She is a Master’s student in the Sustainability Program at Chatham.  This year she hopes to help with getting more schools to be inspired to take waste reduction efforts they learn at Eden Hall back to their schools.





Hi I’m Audrey! I am in the Food Studies masters program here at Chatham, and am so excited to learn all about Pittsburgh and its surrounding areas. I am ready to work with people in the outdoors, as I enjoy exploring nature and learning how to open my eyes to all the cool things happening in the big wide world.  I have educated outdoors with ages ranging from 4 to 14 and am always excited to learn from everyone I work with.  I am developing lessons in orienteering, geocaching, soil, and low ropes team building.  

Sustainable Saturday: Go Fish!


Saturday, February 4th, we welcomed 30 guests to campus to learn how we can reduce water and energy to grow food in our homes year-round. Each family used an assortment of reused materials to build their own mini-aquaponics system, including a 2-liter bottle and an old wash cloth. With some help from a friendly betta fish, each system will soon grow basil for their own kitchen using zero energy! Families were also toured through our aquaculture lab, solar high tunnel, and living green wall to see other unique ways we grow plants on campus. Be sure to check out our Sustainable Saturdays website to learn more and register for our final event in the Sustainable Saturdays series, Solar Superheroes.

Eagle Scout Project Adds New Outdoor Classroom to Eden Hall Campus

This summer, Matt Ferris,  an Eagle Scout Candidate in Boy Scout Troop 144, built an outdoor classroom for Chatham’s Eden Hall Campus.

On Saturday August 12th Matt delivered benches and a portable chalk board he made from scratch over the summer.With the help of his troop members, Matt carried a total of 8 benches down one of Eden Hall’s hiking trails to an open plot of land. A huge thank you to Matt for making this great resource for the campus! We look forward to using it with higher ed classes, K-12 field trips and family programs.

OC The finished outdoor classroom, photographed by Matt Ferris.

Eden Hall Summer Teacher Fellowship 2016

Thanks to generous support from the Benedum Foundation, this summer the Eden Hall Campus hosted five teachers for the Eden Hall Summer Teacher Fellowship. Over five days, educators came together to learn about sustainability content from Chatham faculty and build Problem Based Learning (PBL) lessons and unit plans to use in the classroom over the coming school year. This year’s participating schools included: Penn Hills Junior High School, Pittsburgh Public Gifted Center, Environmental Charter School, and Falk Laboratory School.

Faculty content sessions included:

  • Renewable Energy and Green Buildings with Mary Whitney, Director of University Sustainability
  • Sustainable Agriculture with John Taylor, Assistant Professor of Agroecology
  • Ecology and Biodiversity with Ryan Utz, Assistant Professor of Water Resources
  • Place, Health and Well-Being with Mary Beth Mannarino, Assistant Professor of Psychology
  • Aquaculture and Aquaponics with Roy Weitzell, Aquatic Laboratory Director

PBL training was provided in partnership with ASSET and fellows were also given time to visit with community partners relevant to their lesson planning over the course of the week. We are excited for all of these passionate educators to come back to Eden Hall with their students over this coming year as they pilot their PBL unit in sustainability!

Here’s what some of the Fellows had to say about the week themselves:

“This experience was incredibly enriching and definitely furthered my capacities as an educator. I am so thankful that I was able to take part in this and hope that it continues to grow and change education!”

“I enjoyed the real hands on time with professors/experts in the field of sustainability and the community of teachers who shared ideas, resources, and insight with one another.”

“I was fascinated by the professors talks and demonstrations. Just like our students, I loved the hands on learning of the moth watch, log inoculation, tour of the facilities, solar oven demo. I appreciated the time to explore community partners that were of interest to us (local farms). I enjoyed the camaraderie of my fellow teachers, our brainstorming sessions and socializing.”


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