“Miss Katz, why are you carrying that fork?” asked the student.
That question was just what Beth Katz wanted to hear as a ninth-grade environ-mental science teacher at Environmental Charter High School in Lawndale, Calif. Her answer: “I bring my own plate and fork to use at lunch so I’m not throwing out disposable ones.”
For her students and others around her, Katz purposely sets simple examples of how to live a more sustainable lifestyle. “The best way to spread a message is through your daily actions, making the little changes you can make in your own life,” she says.
Katz started at the school in 2006 after signing up with Teach for America, a nationwide teacher-training program in which LMU participates. She earned her master’s in 2008 and stayed two more years, energized by the experience of helping children understand environmental concerns. “A dual thing happened to me there,” she says. “You try to inspire students, but they really end up inspiring you.”
She created an engaging, hands-on curriculum. For example, students regularly monitored marine debris at a local beach, even creating art out of the trash collected. Katz remembers as a high school student in Venice, Calif., battles to preserve the Ballona Wetlands. Katz also made environmental justice part of the class by discussing air pollution and its effects on minority and low-income communities. “Science investigations are more meaningful when you look at problems in your own community and start exploring solutions.”
As an undergrad at Columbia University in New York, Katz majored in environmental science. She spent a summer internship studying arsenic contamination in trees near a New Jersey Superfund site. “Trees definitely do uptake pollutants,” she says. She presented her research in a poster session at an American Geophysical Union meeting in 2004. And her senior thesis looked at the performance of home water filters. “That was my own personal vendetta against bottled water,” she says.
Katz is now a doctoral student at Pardee RAND Graduate School in Santa Monica, Calif., studying environmental policy and education. And she’s back to setting simple examples. “I’m clearly the environmental advocate around my classmates. One person who makes small changes might convince one other person to make those same changes.” Her new passion: reusable bags. “I’m always happy to loan or give away one of my cloth bags.”