Teacher helps students counteract climate change locally
Two decades into her career, Breck Foster continues her educational journey.
Having once considered a career in diplomacy or working for a non-governmental organization, the Lake Oswego High School teacher has always been passionate about addressing global issues. But it wasn’t until five years ago that she had an epiphany at a book talk — she needed to teach climate change in her social studies classes.
Since then, Foster has worked with students to advocate to administrators at both the high school and Lake Oswego School District, as well as legislators at the state Capitol, to bolster climate change education locally and statewide. It is for her work in this effort that she was named an Amazing Educator.
“It’s super exciting for me. I feel a real sense of purpose seeing their enthusiasm,” Foster said.
Foster attended University of California-Berkeley with a focus on social studies, and decided that she would work to address global problems at a local level. She worked at Head Start and the YWCA before becoming a high school teacher in Los Angeles. Her husband got a job as a professor at Lewis & Clark College, which is what led Foster to Lake Oswego. Foster has taught social studies and Spanish at the high school since 2011.
Upon her epiphany, Foster began incorporating natural resource extraction and environmental degradation into her teachings on the industrial revolution. And she said one of her favorite lessons is when kids listen to a remix and sample of a speech by youth climate activist Greta Thunberg and then create one for a speech by a different climate activist.
“Tapping into this creative or musical side of students, something that is not my forte, gives me a great opportunity to learn and be inspired by my students. And at the same time they are learning big lessons about the role of individuals to spark social movements for positive change,” she said.
Foster also helped start a Green Team at the high school, where students have advocated for the school to make changes to reduce food waste and for the district to include sustainability in its overarching mission. This has included meeting with cafeteria and custodian staff to discuss how to incorporate things like composting without making it burdensome on them, and with school board members on what can be done at local schools. The district added sustainability within its strategic plan and Foster felt students played a role in that.
Foster noted that many youth today feel anxiety about the future due to the potential for rising temperatures, increasingly uninhabitable environments and natural disasters. But she feels it’s important to not only show the problems society faces but also practical solutions students can take in their lives.
“I love watching kids light up when they realize they can tackle the climate crisis starting right in our school and focusing on systems. I see the anxiety and mental burden they feel lifted from their shoulders as they see this as a shared responsibility that adults have to identify problems and address them at a systems or institutional level,” she said.
Foster also joined the Oregon Educators for Climate Education group, which helped inspire Senate Bill 854. Proposed during the current legislative session, the bill focuses on bolstering climate change education. Students in the LOHS Green Team recently visited the state Capitol to speak with Sen. Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, and Rep. Daniel Nguyen, D-Lake Oswego, about the bill. A local student subsequently disseminated a petition calling on people to advocate for it.
“One thing that I think is unique about this bill is it really recognizes everyone in Oregon has different needs and experiences around climate change. It has a regional focus. The idea is that (if) people in Eastern Oregon, the coast, Portland, have different ways they want to teach climate change, then they would have that measure of autonomy to make it their own,” Foster said.
Foster emphasized that this work came at an opportune time in her life when her kids were older and she had more time to devote to it. And she said she’s working as hard as she ever has as a teacher.
“It’s my responsibility and my honor to do this work,” she said.