Lesson Plan August 12, 2022

Through Study, Art, Action: Raising Awareness of Environmental Racism


This unit was created by Kathleen Fullerton, an educator working with youth in Oregon's juvenile justice system, as part of the 2021-2022 Pulitzer Center Teacher Fellowship program. It is designed for facilitation across five lessons. (Note: The final lesson, in which students work on their final projects, may take more than one day to complete.)

For more units created by Pulitzer Center Teacher Fellows in this cohort, click here.


  • Understand environmental racism, water resources, and pollution.
  • Identify the source of their community drinking water and the importance of watershed management and oversight.
  • Examine global, national, and local environmental water crises and the communities affected.
  • Think critically about environmental activism to address the crises and how they can participate. 
  • Think critically about reliable media resources and  underreported stories of  environmental degradation and activism, in particular for BIPOC communities.
  • Evaluate examples of effective media as message in their development of a performance task supporting their environmental activism.

Unit Overview:

“Hallowed landscapes lost their sacredness and were exploited as the local people became insensitive to the destruction, accepting it as a sign of progress.”

― Wangari Maathai, Environmental Activist 

This unit was developed for young men in a carceral setting and as an introduction to place based learning and environmentalism. Youth in our setting are predominantly BIPOC, a group overrepresented in corrections. This unit explores how environmental degradation disproportionately affects marginalized communities, their communities. In an effort to give them skills to return to their communities and make positive impacts, the unit provides knowledge and skills necessary for all students who strive to be leaders and change agents in environmental activism.

"If you don’t raise your voice, then your environmentalism means nothing; it’s mere tokenism or opportunism."

― Wangari Maathai, Unbowed

This unit will begin with an exploration of place and connection to water sources. Students will return to the concepts of sacred resources and reflect on their cultural view.

Students will develop an understanding of environmental racism and its place in the degradation of water resources and their activism.

  • Students will explore their home communities and connection to water resources.
  • Students will examine the concept of environmental racism.
  • Students will explore three stories of place and activism for water resources, pollution, and systems to mitigate climate change.
  • Students will have the opportunity to explore and write about their connection to a home community, their personal environmental activism, and seek to identify environmental racism in their own community.

Students will begin their journey, as all journeys begin, in place. Students will have  an understanding of water resources and sources in their communities.

Students will then continue the journey with a guided viewing of the film Elemental, during which they will find answers to the following questions:

  • What human activities negatively impact the environment/climate change?
  • What communities/landscapes are affected? Globally, nationally, locally?
  • Who are the activists addressing environmental crises?

Students will continue their journey to national and local issues of water resources. Through journaling, large and small group discussion, and exploration of multimedia resources, students will incorporate what they’ve learned previously to approach local issues of water degradation and the communities affected.

Students will complete this portion of their journey by developing a final project to address these issues. In this participation, students will have an opportunity to be activists and share their voice with the larger community of environmental activists.

Performance Task:

At the end of the unit  students will have created, through art, essay,  poetry, and/or letter writing campaigns, a personal message of environmental activism with an overarching representation of water as sacred and as an issue of environmental justice/environmental racism. Students may create their project on a local, national, or global environment issue.

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