‘An unstoppable force’: Neelam Patil named a TIME Magazine Innovative Teacher

Photo of Neelam Patil
Chelsea Feldman/Courtesy
Neelam Patil, a teacher at the Berkeley Unified School District, has been selected as a TIME Magazine Innovative Teacher. Patil has implemented the Miyawaki forest method in her classes at Cragmont and Oxford elementary schools.

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When science teacher Neelam Patil was sent a tweet by a friend about a method for tackling climate change, she had no idea it would eventually land her on TIME Magazine’s Innovative Teacher list.

What she did know, though, was that this method needed to be implemented into her classes at both Cragmont and Oxford Elementary Schools.

The method was called the Miyawaki forest method, which focused on planting fast-growing forests that consume more carbon than regular forests, according to Kanav Deorah, who just completed his fourth-grade year at Oxford Elementary School and was taught by Patil.

Patil was one of only 10 teachers selected by TIME to be recognized. According to TIME’s website, the Innovative Teachers project profiles 10 teachers who are “changing the landscape of education in America.”

“We talk about reparations for groups of people who have endured genocide, so why not pay reparations to Mother Nature,” Patil said. “We are attempting to repair the harm we have done to Mother Nature.”

According to Patil, teaching about climate change can be challenging because it is traumatic and causes many students to feel anxious and depressed. However, Patil said the Miyawaki method allows students to turn their passions, worries and fears into tangible action.

Patil said in order to get one of these forests planted in Berkeley Unified School District, it required her to find funding, a forest-maker and an agreement with the principals and teachers.

After garnering the support she needed, Patil and the students got to work on planting and building the Miyawaki forests.

Evelyn Lloyd, a fifth grader at Cragmont Elementary School, said she participated in the Miyawaki forest project by planting and weeding. She added that she hopes to plant more Miyawaki forests aimed at stopping climate change.

“It is important because (kids) should learn how to help the environment at a young age because then they have more time to help the world,” Lloyd said in an email.

Parents and students alike agreed that climate literacy is fundamental for the future.

Kanav’s mother Shruti Deorah said she has watched her son attend planting drives, research the topic and develop an appreciation for climate change as a threat to civilization. She added that she has seen him learn how these forests could be part of a local solution.

“It is critical for all children (and of course adults) to have a deep understanding of climate change – the problem, the bouquet of possible solutions, and the challenges we face in implementing them,” Deorah said in an email. “Consequences of climate change will unfortunately impact the current student generation more than us, and that worries me as a parent.”

Patil said students who did not have Miyawaki forests on their campus became advocates for the project. She added that she encouraged them to not just be advocates for their campus, but for the Miyawaki forest project at every school.

According to Patil, years ago it was not common to see a school with a garden, but now a school is “incomplete” without one.

“I want the same thing for Miyawaki forests,” Patil said. “A schoolyard would be incomplete without a Miyawaki forests, but I don’t want it to take twenty five years I want it to take five years.”

Teachers, parents and students alike have commended Patil for her commitment to the project.

Kanav said Patil taught him about something he had never heard of before and that it has been “special” to help stop climate change. He added that he and his classmates are sad she will be leaving Oxford Elementary School.

Deorah echoed his sentiments.

“Ms. Patil has been an unstoppable force and I really appreciate her passion on this project,” Deorah said in the email. “She is working tirelessly to create awareness on the potential of Miyawaki forests, as well as planting these in Berkeley schools.”

Jacqueline Omania, fellow teacher at Oxford Elementary School, said she has been amazed by Patil’s activism and turnaround time on her project.

She also said she is “very happy” for her.

“Getting honored helps you to grow a movement and that will hopefully impact other schools to do the same,” Omania said.

Anna Armstrong is the lead schools and communities reporter. Contact her at [email protected]dailycal.org, and follow her on Twitter at @annavarmstrongg.