Photo depicting an area of Mount Rainier National Park with the mountain reflected in a pond of water and pink flowers blooming in the foreground.

DOH Creates Resources to Highlight Intersections of Climate Change and Health

by Ronnie Estoque

Last month, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) announced several resources for teachers and students to learn more about the intersection between climate change and health. The DOH partnered with the Puget Sound Educational Service District (PSESD) to create the Washington Tracking Network (WTN), which is the nation’s first Environmental Public Health Tracking program to offer learning modules for high school students. The free materials lead students through various lesson plans that utilize DOH data to understand topics such as the connections between asthma and wildfires.

“Climate change is a global environmental and public health threat. In Washington, our economy and quality of life are very connected to our natural resources, increasing the consequences of climate-change impacts,” Shelby Anderson, public information officer at the DOH, said. “DOH’s classroom resources aim to engage students and promote critical thinking by highlighting climate change data, health data, the scientific process, community experience, and insights from DOH epidemiologists.”

Cheryl Lydon has worked at the PSESD since 2008 and currently serves as a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) program manager. She was one of the main organizers aiding the partnership with the DOH throughout the development process, which began in February of 2021.

“Washington Tracking Network gives students a lot of data, a lot of local data about things that are happening that they may be studying in environmental science, in physics, and chemistry, in biology in particular, the other thing it does is it localizes, right to their zip code. It even localizes to their census tract,” Lydon said.

The DOH worked with curriculum design consultant Tom Hawthorne, who developed the classroom learning materials and turned them into a professional development course, which was pilot tested this past spring. Over the summer, the DOH partnered with ESD113, a state-level educational service district that helps provide resources and services for local schools, to provide the professional development course as an on-demand resource for teachers, which became available in November as an asynchronous course via Canva. Once enrolled teachers complete the course, they earn eight STEM continuing education hours (clock hours) toward their license renewal.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the importance of people being aware of public health as a field, and of being able to understand public health information,” Anderson said. “The educational resources aim to increase data literacy and understanding about ways the places we live, work, and play impact our health.”

Lydon is excited to see how students will use the resources and data to understand science topics through a variety of perspectives and real-world phenomena.

“So it isn’t just the fact that we have smoke in the air that’s causing asthma, more asthma in some places than in others. It’s socioeconomics, it’s access to hospital care and health care … we’re asking kids, especially in high school, to make sense of multiple factors,” Lydon said. “You don’t just study science to understand science concepts, you understand science to solve problems.”

The DOH also began working with the Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction (OSPI) in November 2021 to develop the WTN Youth Science Contest, which launched in March 2022. The second year of the WTN Youth Science Contest opens for high school students in March, and the Radon Poster Contest for students ages 9 through 14 starts in January.

Ronnie Estoque is a South Seattle-based freelance photographer and videographer. You can keep up with his work by checking out his website.

📸 Featured Image: Mount Rainier National Park. (Photo: Jaidev Vella)

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