EcoSchools making students
even more sensitive about Mother Nature
More than 70 schools ecoSchool certified, up from two in 2006
June 29, 2010
By Jason Misner
COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER, HDSB STAFF
Halton District School Board staff and students clearly care about Mother Nature, and that adoration seems to show even stronger in the fact almost three-quarters of schools have been certified ecoSchools.
So what does that mean, you say?
A lot for environmental preservation and learning.
Incorporating ecoSchools practices means students are developing ecological literacy through all kinds of subjects while trying to become environmentally-responsible citizens.
It’s largely predicated on the Ontario ecoSchools program. It is an environmental education program for Grades 1-12 that helps students become environmental stewards. It consists of four components ─ ecological literacy, waste minimization, energy conservation and schoolyard greening.
A fun part of the ecoSchools program is a certification process. It recognizes a school for its environmental initiatives, awarding the school bronze, silver or gold EcoSchool status depending on how successfully the school has met the requirements of the program.
EcoSchool programming has grown in popularity at the board over the past four years.
The number of schools certified as ecoSchools has risen from just two in 2006-07, to 35 in 2007-08, 57 in 2008/09 and now 73 in 2009/10, which represents almost 75 per cent of HDSB schools.
Ontario ecoSchool's resources offer an environmental perspective to the choices made in operating schools and in planning classroom programs based on the Ontario Curriculum. Developed and run by school boards, it also helps schools and school boards improve their internal operations to minimize their environmental footprint.
The Ontario ecoSchools program is aligned with, and supports, all the goals and strategies of the policy framework for environmental education in Ontario called Acting Today, Shaping Tomorrow.
Given the world’s environment has change much over the past decade, Ontario’s environmental education objective uses environmental issues and topics as a theme to weave into all subjects and grades, according to online provincial government curriculum documents. This ensures all students have many opportunities to acquire the knowledge, skills, perspectives and practices they need to become environmentally-literate citizens.
“It is possible to make a connection with environmental education in every subject area but certainly Science and Technology, Geography, and Canadian and World Studies have exceptionally strong links,” says Ron Ballentine, HDSB’s Coordinator of Environmental Education, and Science and Technology.
He says ecoSchools work is a huge factor in impressing upon students the need to conserve and protect the environment for the next generation of people.
“Simply put, the environment is a highly engaging context for learning, leading to improved learning, and is a key aspect of character and active, caring, responsible citizenship,” he said.
Alexander's and Brookville Public Schools are just two of the many examples of HDSB schools tackling ecoSchools certification and environmental awareness.
Alexander’s Public School became a designated ecoSchool in 2008, creating two ecoSchool teams: Environmental Rangers (grades 2-3) and The Evergreens (grades 4-5). Their duties include checking classroom recycling bins for proper sorting and recycling, and to ensure lights are shut off during breaks.
A popular initiative has been the development of a Learning Garden. It was created to provide some needed shade area around the grounds, and has established a “nice atmosphere” in the process, says Alison Cann, Grade 2 French Immersion teacher.
Students gravitate to it as a peaceful place to read, and it’s used for science classes, she notes, adding school fundraising and support from the Halton Learning Foundation and Toyota Canada were key in setting up the garden.
“It still is a work in progress,” says Cann, who recently completed creating a summer watering and weeding schedule. “Parents and teachers are involved in this.”
Cann says Alexander’s wants its community to be “green and lush for future generations” and ecoSchools programs are helping achieve that goal.
“It's important because the students see the waste, too. Students are very smart. They want to make a difference naturally so it's just natural for teachers to support them.”
“Their enthusiasm is catching.”
Brookville Public School teacher Susan Kennedy is just as proud about her school’s efforts to connect with the environment.
It has created a student “Eco Council”, consisting of a group of intermediate student leaders who meet weekly with teacher supervision. Designed to bridge communication between students and teachers, the council plans and implements school-wide “eco initiatives” for the year.
Some of this year’s initiatives include a waste free lunch campaign, an energy saving poster contest and water conservation tips.
Brookville, which became an ecoSchool in 2007, also instituted The Living Classroom, an outdoor greening project.
In the spring of 2007, staff, students and parents planted half an acre of four naturalized gardens using only native species like the Butterfly Garden, Meadow Garden, Shrub Thicket and Tall Grass Prairie Garden.
Currently, the gardens are thriving and provide an alternative location to help enhance student learning like sketching, and soil, insect and/or tree studies, Kennedy says.
To help alleviate the stress on the region’s only landfill, Brookville PS has for several years implemented Halton Region’s Green Cart Program to reduce wet garbage waste. The student Green Team empties the Green Bins from classrooms twice weekly and the region collects the waste once a week.
The environment is an important part of Brookville PS’s culture, Kennedy says.
“The environment is precious to us all. I think one of the greatest gifts we can give our students is education and empowerment. With proper leadership and guidance, students are learning they can make a difference in their world. When they see the positive results of their actions, they become empowered. With these experiences students are learning how to reduce their own carbon footprint.”
She continues: “It isn’t necessarily the size of the project that matters but the heart and commitment that goes into the project. I believe that the ‘eco project’ initiative can have a positive ripple effect, and this, in itself, will be of benefit to us all.”
Overall, ecoSchools is part and parcel of the Halton District School Board’s goal of connecting students with the environment in creative, instructional ways to show them the value of Mother Nature.
Referred to as Environmental Education, the public board is implementing the Ontario Ministry of Education’s mandate of environmental awareness and understanding.
The local work includes the establishment of the Halton District School Board Environmental Management Team. It includes representatives from employee groups, students and parents, providing support and advice relating to the Board’s Environment Operational Policy and environmental initiatives.
“Environmental Education is thriving in Halton, as evidenced by the number of environmental initiatives in classrooms and across the Board, and a significant rise in number of certified EcoSchools,” says Ballentine.
The board has provided support to schools and teachers to further environmental education from workshops, after-school information meetings and celebration and recognition events to curriculum guides and posters, he adds.
A key part of helping the Halton District School Board implement environmental education lies in its many community partnerships including Burlington, Oakville, Milton and Halton Hills hydro companies, Burlington and Oakville Transit, the Halton Learning Foundation, Conservation Halton, Royal Botanical Gardens, Region of Halton, and the local municipalities.