Lauren and Patrick Belmonte are shaping young minds. By sharing simple solutions to global issues, they are lighting the way to environmental stewardship. Lauren, an environmental scientist and certified sustainability manager, and Patrick, COO of Change is Simple—the science-based program the two created over four years ago—are introducing North Shore students to complex ideas, one fun-filled step at a time.
“We really get the kids invested in learning about the natural world, and understanding why it’s important to learn about it,” says Lauren, who came to this work after feeling disgruntled as an environmental consultant in the private sector, where colleagues didn’t always practice what they preached, which is just what Change is Simple aims to do. She was also alarmed to discover that most elementary school curricula are devoid of science subjects. “In addition to the lack of science in the schools, there was really no talk of environmental science,” notes Lauren. So came the birth of Change is Simple.
“Ultimately our message is about how every student can impact the environment, positively or negatively, and how the environment connects to their own health,” explains Lauren.
What began as a single program for fourth graders in North Beverly Elementary School has blossomed into a full curriculum with dozens of lessons fit for grades two through six. “The response was incredible,” says Lauren. “The teachers were asking: ‘What else do you have? What more can we do? When can we see you next?’”
The initial program was about waste. “We chose it as a topic because it is so tangible for kids—they can touch it, they can smell it, they produce it every day.” They focused on the importance of reduction and gave the children ideas for how to change their daily habits; for instance, thinking about how to pack their lunches without packaged items or plastic bags. Or, when shopping for groceries with their parents, choosing items that are either free of packaging or come wrapped in recyclable materials. The Belmontes are, thereby, also empowering kids to become educators; by sharing what they have learned, they are able to work with their families to make informed choices.
“They get to make decisions about things in the home,” notes Lauren.
“We give students a really integrated experience where they are using their hands and experiential learning to gain knowledge about the environment but in a way that they can use the skills schools are so focused on—math and literacy skills,” explains Patrick. He and Lauren look for ways to reinforce those objectives. They believe their programs make kids stronger in those subjects by engaging them in real-world situations that require problem-solving and reading comprehension skills.
The Belmontes have also assembled “lesson extensions,” which are homework assignments of a sort. For example, they might ask students to conduct energy audits of their homes. “It’s really a math worksheet,” notes Patrick, “but it’s an [activity] where they are engaging their parents and making changes in the house.”
Change is Simple’s fundamental curriculum is always at the ready, but if after talking with educators they discover something additional that can be woven in, they will do so. “We make adjustments along the way to make sure it fits really well with what they are doing in the classroom at that time,” says Patrick.
Growing geographically is their goal—to introduce as many kids as possible to these ideas so they have respect for the natural world and make good choices, starting when they are young. “It would be fantastic if every student, nationally, could have this program,” says Lauren. “Every student needs to understand the importance of the health of our environment.”