“How much are people responsible for their own happiness and well-being?” 

That’s a question seventh-graders at Haven Middle School, 2417 Prairie Ave., are exploring through a curriculum that examines practices such as meditation, decluttering, sustainability and downsizing, according to Alina Romaniuk, a seventh-grade language arts teacher at Haven.

“We talk a lot about consumerism and the impact it plays, how it affects us and can oftentimes lead to us feeling less happy,” Romaniuk said at the virtual District 65 meeting on climate action Tuesday evening.

As part of the curriculum, students choose two to three of those topics and write an argument paper focusing on them, she said.

The curriculum, which has been used at the school for several years, has resulted in improvements in students’ mental health, said Kris Patel, another seventh-grade teacher at the school.

“I really think this is truly the most important thing that we’re teaching the students. I’ve seen the impact in my daughter, and I’m really, really grateful,” said Marie Cabiya, a Haven parent and a member of the D65 climate action group.

Karen Bireta, District 65 sustainability coordinator, speaks during the March 21 climate action meeting Credit: Manan Bhavnani

Other updates shared during the meeting included:

  • SCARCE partnership: The district is looking to partner with SCARCE, an environmental education nonprofit, to donate excess supplies with a focus on reducing waste, said Karen Bireta, the district’s sustainability coordinator.
  • Renew America’s Schools grant: The district is moving forward on an application to request more than $11 million in federal funding improve seven existing school buildings.
  • Tree planting: “We‘ve got nine schools planting over 50 trees this spring, which is great,” Bireta said.
  • 10-Second Film Festival: The deadline to submit films for the festival is April 19; the showcase is 6:30 p.m. April 21 at Rotary International, 1560 Sherman Ave.
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Manan Bhavnani

Prior to joining the RoundTable, Manan Bhavnani covered business and technology for the International Business Times, with a focus on mergers, earnings and governance. He is a double Medill graduate, with...

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  1. The original inspiration for this unit came from a parent connection with a filmmaker that was discussed during a parent advisory team committee meeting at Haven. As a teacher representative on that committee, I brought this connection to my 7th grade colleagues, and they built this incredible unit they have been teaching ever since.

    This kind of community collaboration is the way that meaningful, memorable, standards based AND student based curriculum is built. I cannot think of a more appropriate and impactful age for students to be pondering these big questions.

    I am genuinely envious of all the students who have the privilege of working with these creative, inspiring educators! Thank you, Roundtable, for highlighting their work!

  2. The decoupling of happiness and wealth is so vital to our planet’s future! I’m happy to live in a community where the educators understand this and help kids steer away from the relentless advertising and marketing. Thank you so much, teachers!

  3. Congratulations to the Haven team of 7th grade teachers who kept this unit alive and thriving, by any means necessary. Teachers deserve autonomy and respect to make decisions that best support students. Thank you Ms. Romaniuk and Ms. Patel for your dedication to high-quality, student centered instruction. You’re doing such important work, and the community sees this and appreciates you!