For Grades 9-12 , week of Oct. 18, 2021

1. Environmental Human Rights

When people talk about human rights, they usually mean such rights as the right to equality, freedom from discrimination, freedom from slavery, freedom from torture, and the right to participate in government and elections. This month, the United Nations Human Rights Council added another freedom to its list of human rights. The council voted to declare that access to a “safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment” is a basic human right. This is the first time the international council has acknowledged a healthy environment as an important right. Human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said the move “is about protecting people and the planet — the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat.” Despite criticism from some countries, including the United States, the environmental rights resolution was supported by 43 of the 47 nations on the council. A healthy environment affects people in many ways. In the newspaper or online, find and study photos and stories showing different ways people benefit from a healthy environment around them. Use what you read to write a personal or political column that explores these benefits. Remember that some benefits affect people indirectly rather than directly.

Common Core State Standards: Producing clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization and style are appropriate to the task; citing textual or visual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.

2. Less Salt in Food

Americans love salty foods like potato chips and French fries, but too much salt in what you eat can increase the risk of health problems like high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure and obesity. To reduce the amount of salt (or sodium) in what people eat, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued new recommendations to lower the salt content of foods eaten in restaurants, school cafeterias and food trucks, or in packaged and prepared foods. The recommendations seek to reduce the average daily sodium intake by 12 percent over the next two-and-a-half years by encouraging food manufacturers, restaurants and food service companies to lower their use of salt, the New York Times newspaper reported. That would lower the daily intake to 3,000 milligrams of salt from the 3,400 milligrams of salt that Americans now consume (3,000 milligrams of salt is equal to about one teaspoon). Compliance with the FDA recommendations is voluntary for now, but health experts hailed them as a good first step. Many processed foods or snacks contain a great deal of salt. To determine how much, people can check the ingredients label for sodium (if it is listed first, it means sodium makes up a high percentage of ingredients). With the newspaper or Internet, use food ads to find healthy foods to replace salty packaged ones for snacks or meals. Use what you find to brainstorm an idea for an animated video for younger students to teach about healthy alternatives that are delicious and fun to eat.

Common Core State Standards: Writing narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.

3. Burnt Sequoias

The giant sequoia is the largest tree in the world in volume and has an immense trunk that contains more wood than any other species. Giant sequoias can grow to nearly 300 feet tall and some are more than 3,000 years old. In the state of California, giant sequoias are natural attractions that draw thousands of visitors a year. But this year, intense wildfires in the areas where they grow in the Sierra Nevada mountains are threatening the survival of this remarkable species. Wildfires have encroached on sequoia groves in both Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and also in the Giant Sequoia National Monument area of Sequoia National Forest. Despite efforts to save these signature trees, the fires have damaged both the trunks and the canopy of foliage high above, the Washington Post newspaper reported. With fires still burning in the affected areas, officials do not yet know how many sequoias have been affected or how many will die from the intense heat. But they are worried. “The fires were severe enough to possibly impact hundreds of trees,” one park official said. The California wildfires continue to pose dangers to people, wildlife and the environment. Use the newspaper and Internet to follow the latest news about the wildfires this week. Write an editorial outlining the greatest challenges facing the affected areas.

Common Core State Standards: Writing opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.

4. Ban on Plastic

Plastic pollution is one of the world’s great environmental problems. Plastic products pollute the world’s oceans and natural areas. They also contribute to global warming, because they are made from materials that come from fossil fuels, which create greenhouse gases. To combat the use of plastics, the European nation of France has announced it will ban plastic packaging for almost all fruits and vegetables, starting in January 2022. Foods affected by the ban next year include tomatoes, apples, bananas and oranges, CNN News reported. The ban will be expanded in future years to include cherry tomatoes, green beans, peaches, asparagus, mushrooms, cherries, raspberries, strawberries and some salads. The packaging ban is part of a multi-year government program to phase out plastic. In 2021, France banned plastic straws, cups, knives, forks, spoons and styrofoam takeout boxes. Next year fast-food restaurants will no longer be allowed to offer free plastic toys. All over the world nations and communities are working to clean up plastic pollution or reduce the use of plastics. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about different efforts to do this. Use what you read to design a public interest advertising campaign to get people to reduce the use of plastics or address plastic pollution. Give your campaign a theme and design three or more ads to get your message out.

Common Core State Standards: Using drawings or visual displays when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or points; reading closely what written and visual texts say and to making logical inferences from them.

5. Lucy in the Sky

The fossil named Lucy was the world’s most famous human ancestor when it was discovered in 1974. Now a space mission named Lucy is hoping to discover “fossils” of the early days of the solar system. The mission by America’s NASA space agency will begin Tuesday with the launch of a 13-foot Lucy spacecraft that will explore asteroids near the giant planet Jupiter. All told, the craft will study eight asteroids orbiting in the solar system near Jupiter over the next 12 years. NASA scientists hope the asteroids will yield new information about the formation of planets and the solar system 4.5-billion years ago. The asteroids are “the fossils of planet formation,” said the mission’s principal investigator. It will take the Lucy spacecraft four years to reach the first asteroid. Many space missions are planned or under way to learn more about our solar system or other systems in space. In the newspaper or online, find and closely read stories about one or more of these missions. Use what you read to write a letter to the editor detailing what one or more mission hopes to learn, and why that is important to scientists.

Common Core State Standards: Writing informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly; citing specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions.