This month marks the one-year anniversary of the Miyawaki forest project in Berkeley Unified School District, which is aimed at combating climate change.
This project was founded by Neelam Patil, a climate literacy and science teacher at Sylvia Mendez Elementary School and TIME innovative teacher of the year for 2022.
“In a nutshell, we started off here in Berkeley,” Patil said. “We have planted the very first schoolyard forests, and they’re ultra dense forests that use all native plants and they sequester carbon.”
The Miyawaki forest project is currently at Cragmont, Malcolm X and King elementary schools, with plans to plant a fourth forest in December of this year, according to Patil.
These forests have replaced ornamental lawns on the school sites, added Patil, which tend to require a great amount of water to upkeep them. In contrast, the schoolyard forests don’t need to be watered after three years, due to them being composed of native foliage.
“That’s what Miyawaki forests are. They’re just giving so much back when we’ve given nature some space to exist,” Patil said. “It’s really incredible and the biodiversity did not exist there before.”
Students have been engaging with the forests in various ways this past year, added Patil. Malcolm X students are creating a guidebook for their forest, while Cragmont is measuring forest growth and doing observations.
This year, Patil said her club, composed of fourth and fifth graders, called the green team, co-wrote a play titled “A Forest Like No Other” on Miyawaki forests. The club was able to perform two showings of this production this spring.
“We did two shows and their parents got to see it, and it was just a really lovely interaction for everyone and this year we’re going to do it again,” Patil said.
Looking back on the past year this project has been active; Patil said she believes it is growing in scope.
She also said the TIME magazine nomination increased people’s awareness of the project.
“I’ve been speaking at conferences, I’m preparing a TED talk and I’m applying for grants to get more schoolyard forests,” Patil said. “I became certified to plant Miyawaki forests myself and so I’m the forest designer for the next forest we’re planting in Berkeley in December.”
Patil noted that allowing the children to engage with the forests has given them hope that they can be a part of climate change solutions. She added that people underestimate youth and that we should believe in their capacity and give them a voice much more often.
“I’m excited to be part of this kind of growing movement of childrens’ climate change activism and climate literacy,” Patil said.