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UndauntedK12: Making Climate Change Champions out of America's Public Schools

2024 Catalyst Fund Awardee
Jonathan Klein
Catalyst Fund
United States

There are few issues more globally pressing than climate change and education. America’s public schools are uniquely poised at the nexus of climate risk mitigation and academic success. Not only are they one of the largest public sector energy consumers, but climate change is increasingly impacting schools, with heat, wildfires, floodings, hurricanes and more causing school closures and disrupting learning. Jonathan Klein was intimately familiar with the intricacies of public school systems. As a 5th-grade teacher, he developed a passion for advocating for low-income students and families and improving public schools within communities as a fundraiser, community organizer, and political advocate.

Educators see how climate change disrupts learning, exacts physical and emotional harm, and widens inequities. Climate change is a threat multiplier for already burdened communities.

Jonathan Klein, Founder, UndauntedK12

His bold vision of achieving a world in which all children, regardless of skin color, family income, home language, or neighborhood, were presented with opportunities for success led to the development of GO Public schools. Jonathan’s deep relationships with communities informed his belief in the capacity of communities themselves to improve public education.

When Jonathan attended a youth climate strike with his daughter in 2019, he was inspired by what he witnessed. Further investigation made him realize how exposed school infrastructure was to climate risks. Worse, he found that while there were billions of dollars in federal funds available to schools for climate resilience and sustainability efforts, there was a collective unawareness of the opportunities. Jonathan founded UndauntedK12 to highlight the connection between schools and climate change resiliency for communities, build decision-making and advocacy capacity around school infrastructure, and facilitate teacher and student empowerment, especially in overlooked populations.

UndauntedK12 has become an educational movement, connecting school systems to potential federal investment for green energy infrastructure through the Inflation Reduction Act. Signed into law in 2022, the IRA makes the single largest investment in climate and energy in American history, through incentives and tax credits for clean energy development. UndauntedK12 partners with schools to inform them of the opportunities, help them transition to a clean energy future, and also to to develop the next generation of leaders—students and educators—who will drive that future forward. In California, for example, Undaunted has graduated its first cohort of 40+ high school-aged California Youth Climate Policy leaders. The program seeks to empower high school students to enact real change in their schools in relation to climate threats.

2.2 million
students collectively impacted
states collaborate on resources related to schools and the IRA
participants attended policy roundtables from 60 school districts

Undaunted develops digital resources and toolkits that walk stakeholders through the impact of solar energy, energy storage, ground-source heat pumps, electric school buses, and electric vehicle use on school ecosystems. These partnerships support schools in the realization of a green future, and encourage them to commit to healthy environments, renewable power, electric equipment, and zero-emission vehicles. The decision to adopt particular infrastructural changes is often school-specific, and decisions are collaboratively made depending on a school’s identified need. Undaunted encourages schools to use the federal reimbursements through the IRA to reinvest in student health and learning. As a result, in their pursuit of a green future, schools are positively impacting student well-being.

With a focus on multilateral involvement and long-term change, Undaunted works to not only protect students and school systems in the short-term but also to develop coalitions that influence policy at the state level. For example, they have built the California and Massachusetts Climate Ready Schools Coalitions, which collectively published a wide-reaching report on Climate-Resilient Schools and became a leading voice in calling for policy change and innovation to advance decarbonized schools, respectively. The organization strategically partners with labor organizations to unite labor movements for climate justice, and emboldens youth climate justice leaders to take initiative towards the establishment of climate solutions in their schools.

We are united by a desire to activate the potential of America's K12 schools to respond to climate change. We will persist, undaunted by the scale of the challenge.

Jonathan Klein, Founder, UndauntedK12


Jonathan is a previous 5th grade teacher, nonprofit executive director, and co-founder of thriving social ventures like GO Public Schools, Revolution Foods, and Oakland Public Education Fund. His work has a demonstrated history of impact in education and politics and has advised parents, educators, and elected leaders across the country. He was spurred to act in face of the climate crisis while chaperoning middle schoolers at September 2019’s climate strike.

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