New Jersey Learns Participant Case Story

New Jersey Learns Participant Case Story

FEATURE: Christopher Bickel of Livingston, NJ

New Jersey resident Christopher Bickel was a cohort two participant of the New Jersey Learns program and is today an advocate and activist for sustainability in his hometown of Livingston. Chris is the supervisor for Social Studies with the Livingston School District and has more than 16 years of experience in education. He believes that it’s important for his students to have confidence about the way that they naturally think, in his words, "bring a force to the vision that young kids naturally have." According to Chris, young people are aware of the challenges we face and they know that we can’t keep doing things the same way, but by the 5th grade they lose hope that they or anyone can make a real difference. “Elementary school children know that the earth should be nurtured, I want to give that original conviction backbone and make it stick,” he says. While acting as a supervisor of the Strategic Plan for the Board of Education of Livingston, the educator was successful in getting sustainability written into the curriculum. Fundamentally, Chris’ intention is to reaffirm to young kids that their natural instinct is correct and through “sustainabilized” curriculum, he wants to increase awareness of, and participation in activities that contribute to a healthier future.

While his target audience is K-12 students primarily, his reach has expanded overtime as he has become more involved in and passionate about a healthier New Jersey. Chris’ NJ Learns Community Action Plan centered on Eco-Fairs and he has subsequently organized two such events. Notably, he worked with Project Porchlight, a grassroots program in New Jersey, to distribute energy efficient light bulbs to residents during one of the fairs. While happy with the turn-out and action taken to conserve energy, Chris recognized that he was not addressing the thinking that leads to lasting behavioral change. He was intent to "do something a little deeper."  

Chris was one of the first New Jersey Learners to participate in Earthwatch Expeditions for formal educators funded by The Dodge Foundation. Following that experience Chris published the children’s book The Nest Seekers, a primary level children’s book about an Earthwatch Expedition in northwestern Wyoming in April 2012. In it, he makes the connection between human interaction and bird populations in natural habitats. The book is aligned to The Cloud Institute’s EfS Standards, E) Healthy Commons, G) Inventing & Affecting the Future, and I) Strong Sense of Place, as well as relevant NJ State, Common Core and 21st Century Skills standards. Since the release Chris has spoken at several conferences and made numerous book store appearances.

In addition to his work in school, at community fairs, conferences and bookstores, Chris is also active with The Livingston Green Team, Livingston Citizens Institute and the Sustainability Steering Committee and is working with the Environmental Commission to develop a 5-year strategic plan. Chris estimates that through his speaking engagements and other events, he has reached more than 20,000 New Jersey community members, and he is just getting started!

related story: Donate fresh food? There's an app for that, coming soon from a N.J. man - and former New Jersey Learner! (By Eunice Lee)