After several days without rain, Paula noticed the soil around her neighborhood becoming extremely dry and starting to crack.
“We will sometimes go days without rain, even weeks, which is extremely abnormal considering my county is somewhat like a rainforest,” explains Paula, a rising sophomore from Transylvania County, North Carolina. “So when this happens, it’s noticeable, because it gets hot. It gets really hot.”
This past June, Paula was one of 30 Latino high school students who learned how climate impacts her community during the week-long Juntos Summer Academy held at NC State. Translating to “together” in Spanish, the Juntos Program engages students in grades 8-12 in activities that build excitement about learning. The goal: to ensure high school graduation and increase college access and attendance.
This year, Juntos teamed up with the Center for the Public Engagement with Science (CPES) at UNC-Chapel Hill to incorporate an environmental project into the academy. This effort is one part of the Youth Engaging in the Science of Resilience: Sensing the Environment and Envisioning Solutions (YES Resilience: SEE Solutions) program.
In 2022, CPES received a $2.3-million-dollar award from the National Science Foundation to implement the program, led by Kathleen Gray and Sarah Yelton from CPES. Diana Urieta is the site leader at NC State.
“I think a lot of the youth of this academy could or would identify as being on the front lines of climate change,” says Victoria Triana, program coordinator for YES Resilience: SEE Solutions.
During the academy, the project team focused on helping students understand the scientific method, from forming a question related to climate change or their environment to data collection in the field.
Students completed a data collection walk, using various sensors to capture information about their environment. Some used Pocket-Lab sensors to record particulate matter, ozone, and air temperature to learn about air quality index. Others took water samples from a nearby stream and used test tablets to measure different indicators of water quality such as nitrates and phosphate.
A third group wielded infrared thermometers to determine the temperature of various surfaces and learn about heat islands, areas where temperatures are higher due to dense concentrations of pavement, buildings, and other surfaces absorbing sunlight and releasing it as heat.
“Essentially, we had the students be scientists for the day,” explains Jarvis Richardson, a Carolina senior and intern with the program. “One was a note-taker or mapper. One was a collector. One was like a timekeeper. It got all the students engaged and gave them visual, hands-on insights into the ways climate change is impacting us.”
Richardson oversaw the water collection group for the program. During the walk to the stream, he pointed out potential sources of water pollution. He also explained how infrastructure like storm drains help mitigate some of the effects of climate change.
“This year, we had the opportunity to engage youth in a more focused project around sensing their environment,” Triana says. “We’re hoping that they can take what they’ve learned during this project back to their county-level Juntos 4-H clubs to engage their peers, their families, and their communities in developing solutions to climate impacts.”