Environmentalism has become an increasingly hot button issue, with a UN climate change report suggesting that that humans have until just 2030 to prevent the dangerous destabilization of the Earth’s climate. With that in mind, local schools are taking matters into their own hands.
St. Clement Catholic Elementary School, St. Boniface CES, St. Teresa of Avila CES, and 45 other schools under the Waterloo Catholic District School Board were all officially certified as Ontario EcoSchools.
“We set a goal a long time ago to one day have every single one of our schools certified, and we managed to do that this year,” said John Shewchuk, chief managing officer at the WCDSB.
“It’s a tiny percentage of school boards across the province that would have accomplished this, so we’re really proud of that.”
To become certified, a school must register online and submit a portfolio of environmentally conscious measures that students and teachers alike have contributed.
There are a total of six sections for certification: teamwork and leadership, energy conservation, waste minimization, school ground greening, curriculum, and environmental stewardship. Schools can be ranked bronze, silver, gold, and platinum, with the requirements of each ranking getting progressively more challenging to obtain. They are then presented with a plaque with a seal based on their level for their efforts.
St. Clement CES obtained a gold ranking for the eighth year in a row. They do so through a variety of measures, from having access to compost, recycling, and garbage in each classroom, to eco-themed events, and litter clean-ups.
“We are trying to teach kids that they have the opportunity to make a change. And it’s essential to make better choices in terms of the environment,” said Grade 5/6 teacher, Suzanne Stratford. “We all have to play a part in it because it is all of our responsibility – not just one country or one group or the eco club at our school, everyone has to make those changes to make a difference.”
The school has planted trees, as well as incorporated a peace garden by the front entrance. The peace garden features milkweed that attracts pollinators, such as monarch butterflies. Staff add that it can be educational for students to witness the life cycle of pollinators from the comfort of the classroom, as they can view everything from the window.
Other initiatives include an annual Sweater Day, where staff turn the heat down in the building for conservation purposes and encourage students to wear sweaters into the classroom. They are sure to turn off the lights when not in use.
“Once a year we do a garbage audit, where we collect all the garbage for a full 24 hours at the school. Then we sort it out, and we let the school know how they’ve been doing with it,” said Grade 3/4 teacher, Kirby Kittel. “And actually this year, there’s been a lot of big improvement with that.”
The school also has a volunteer Eco-Team that meets weekly on Wednesdays to discuss measures to be environmentally friendly. Their current goal is to figure out how to eliminate single-use plastics in the school and opt to use reusable instead.
Environmentally-friendly measures are a significant part of the school culture at St. Clement. Each person involved stressed the importance of teamwork in the process of becoming eco-certified, from both students and teachers being dedicated to improving the environment, as well as the work of school custodians.
“Another thing is to make sure that the school custodian is fully involved in the process because so much of it has to do with eliminating waste and handling waste properly – our custodians are great. We wouldn’t be 100 per cent certified system if we didn’t have a first-class bunch of school custodians,” said Shewchuk. “It is a total team effort.”
It is also beneficial to instill these values in children from a young age so that they can implement it in the future and even take some of that knowledge home to their families.
“Part of the plan here is to make sure they’re learning this in school, and then they take it home with them,” said Shewchuk. “To their mom and dad, or grandma and grandpa, or brother and sister … ‘that’s not what you do, that doesn’t go in that bin, don’t throw that in the garbage – that’s recyclable, or that’s compostable.’ So the students are teaching their own families about how to be more responsible. It’s just one of these things where everybody wins.”
St. Boniface CES also obtained a gold ranking, while St. Teresa of Avila CES snagged bronze. Five schools in total won the highest platinum certification. St Clement plans to build on the school’s momentum.
“I’m really proud of our school. I think that they work really hard and the kids that we had this year are really passionate about it; that makes a huge difference,” said Kittel. “We’re not just making them do it; they want to do it. They understand the impact we can have on the environment, and I think that’s very key that we’re empowering the youth to want to care about the environment because this is kind of it.”