Interview by: Bryan Rubin
Jennifer Smillie has been an Oberlin High School mathematics teacher for 12 years. She lives in Bay Village, which is about half an hour away from Oberlin. She has always felt passionate about sustainability and tries to incorporate sustainability in her math classes with the Dashboard.
Q: What roles do your students have with the Environmental Dashboard, or being sustainable in general?
A: It depends a lot on the student, and if they are interested in sustainability. I do notice, even when I bring it up in dialogue, it’s something that really resonates in most kids. I do think they realize that living sustainability is important to their well being and their families’ well being. That’s why I think it is so important as educators that we are in their heads a little bit about those types of things, how to just to be a little bit more mindful in how they act throughout the day.
Q: How do you bring up the Dashboard in classes?
A: I’ll pull it up and look at the consumption for the day, for the year. I like to look at the different patterns, particularly in my Algebra 2 classes. When we were studying sinusoidal functions, when you look at it on a daily basis it doesn’t look so much like a sinusoidal graph. It doesn’t have that sort of ebb and flow, but when you start to expand up to a yearly pattern, it starts to take on that function pattern a little bit better. So the Dashboard to me is a nice avenue to perhaps do a unit on big data. Like how we can use this huge field of data to think about how we live and make changes.
"...they realize that living sustainability is important to their well being and their families’ well being."
Q: How do you think sustainability takes place in Oberlin?
A: When you get out into the community there’s a lot of stuff. I was talking with the principal about doing a field trip to the solar array and he was like, "What, there’s a solar array?" Making people aware of what solar arrays can do and then doing some internet searches on all of the different innovative ways some countries have come up with the concept of using roads as a solar array is really powerful. I think it's important to go to see the solar, then come back to the classroom and use the Internet to connect the broader ideas. As teenagers your mind is racing and anything can be done, so you have to harness the teenager energy just as much as you have to harness that solar, and other energies as well.
"You just have to realize the earth is just one giant system and we’re apart of that."
Q: What do you do in your daily life to be environmentally friendly and sustainable?
A: I’m a pretty avid recycler, and we have a door-to-door program. I try to ride my bike actively. I believe in active transportation. I started a bike co-op in Bay Village to try to encourage more active transportation. Mainly teaching my son the importance of recycling. This is one of my proudest stories of his. It was last summer, and we were sitting, looking outside the window, and a plastic bag was kind of rolling down the street and he was like “Mom, we got to go get that bag. It’s going to blow into the lake!” I thought that was so cool, because we always talk about it and live right on the lake. He loves the animals so much, and we talk about plastics in the water being no good, so that was a proud moment. Had to boast a little bit. I really want to improve the recycling at the school because right now it’s not great. It’s better than when I started. I’m working towards starting a sustainability club in the high school, where we would focus on waste management and active transportation aspects. It is important to me, and I do take time, and I think the kids too, because they’ll be like, “Are we recycling?”
Q: What makes you want to keep doing more to improve?
A: It’s just something that’s always been important to me. I realize the interconnectedness of it all. In a sense you are what you eat, and if you’re not taking care of the planet, and you're eating terrible things as a result, then your health and wellness will go down, and thereby happiness. It’s a cycle. It’s a lot of systems thinking. You just have to realize the earth is just one giant system and we’re apart of that.
Q: Is there more you would like to embrace within the community?
A: Well, I wrote a Safer Routes to School Grant, working with Sharon Pearson, and part of that is to build more active transportation into the community. Oberlin is such a walkable, bikeable place. We’re trying to use the Safer Routes to School Grant to incorporate families, so through children coming home to mom and dad, or whatever, and saying let’s ride our bike.