In response to climate change, a growing number of schools are taking kids outside to show them how a warming planet affects their local environment.

Common Ground High School students study water quality in the river that flows near their campus as a part of Green Jobs Corps, an environmental employment and leadership training program.Common Ground High School students study water quality in the river that flows near their campus as a part of Green Jobs Corps, an environmental employment and leadership training program. 

Standing waist-deep in Connecticut’s West River, Nyasia Mercer’s mind is far from the cold, murky water lapping against her rubber waders. The high-schooler is thinking of people. The ones who swim here. Fish here. The ones who unwittingly dump liquid waste into nearby sewers. And how few of them know what swirls through their neighborhood waterway.

“It’s sad,” Mercer said. “A lot of these things could have been prevented if the community knew how. A lot don’t know how to advocate for themselves.”

But self-advocacy isn’t a problem for the students at Common Ground High School in New Haven, where Mercer is a senior. She and her classmates spend their school days sometimes literally waist-deep in environmental justice issues. Common Ground, a charter school with almost 200 students, integrates conservation, sustainability, and environmental studies into the curriculum and across disciplines.

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