Friday Feature: Meet COP21 Education Ambassador Billy Koenig!

As our COP21 Window Into Paris program approaches, we will be featuring an educator in our delegation each week to share their thoughts on the program and how they plan to incorporate their experience at the UN climate change negotiations into their classrooms.

This week’s featured educator is Billy Koenig, a high school biology teacher at Shakopee High School in Minnesota. Billy teaches AP Biology, Environmental Ethics, and General Biology classes, and plans to connect with 100 students at his school while in Paris.

Q: What sparked your initial interest in our Window into Paris program?

A: A local company, Rahr Malting, actually clued me in on the program and they are now also supporting my participation. I think – and Rahr agrees – that it is important to connect students to local businesses, so my students and I have worked with Rahr and other businesses on many environmental projects and programs throughout the Shakopee area.  

Q: When and why did you initially become interested in bringing climate change into your classroom?

A: I am embarrassed to admit that I needed some persuasion on this subject matter. At first, I was a little timid and reserved on my teachings of climate change. My interest in teaching climate education increased simply by reading, studying, talking with others, and asking critical questions. As evidence mounted, I recognized more and more the importance of the topic and the need for climate change education to be taught in school.  

Q: Why are the upcoming COP21 climate change negotiations important to you and your students?

A: After the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, I feel that the negotiations take on a new and even stronger meaning. I think it will be important for students to watch as people unite in a time of unrest, because our natural world is important and the effects of climate change will be wide-ranging. I hope this horrible, divisive action can be used to ignite world leaders to come together to write policy for a sustainable future.

Q: How will you prepare your students to engage with COP21, including use of Climate Generation’s Citizen Climate curriculum? How will you incorporate your Window Into Paris experience in your classroom during COP21 and upon your return?

A: The Citizen Climate curriculum does a great job of systematically going through the important background information on these international negotiations, leading up to a to mock conference. My students have benefitted by getting a glimpse of the complex problems and solutions that characterize efforts to address climate change on a global scale. I am hoping my experience in Paris and having students write their own position statement will show them that they are much closer to climate policy then they may think, and that it will affect them in direct ways.

Q: What are you most looking forward to with the Window into Paris program?

A: I am looking forward to taking some of the energy and excitement of my experience at these negotiations back to my school. I am hoping to become inspired to fight for climate education policy in our schools in Minnesota. I am looking forward to bringing some of the ideas and knowledge back. Mostly, I am looking forward to meeting and learning from the other Education ambassadors.

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