In addition to urging governments and corporations to act responsibly on climate change, students can experience empowerment by changing behavioural patterns with everyday solutions that are achievable within their school. Karen Orgee, featured in my spring article in this magazine regarding climate change, states, “Infusing environmental stewardship in the curriculum at all ages is critical at this time. As educators, our role is to develop educated and active citizens. If climate change and environmental stewardship were fully integrated in the curriculum, we would be training future adults to respond in more thoughtful and sustainable ways.”
Here are some ideas to help inspire your students’ actions this year.
RECYCLING: Start the year by discovering what is recyclable. Students on Canada’s east coast began using TerraCycle’s snack wrapper Zero Waste Box to dispose of their Halloween candy wrappers. April Poole, a teacher at St. Lewis Academy whose 26 classmates collected hundreds of wrappers, said, “It gets them into that mindset; they can do something to make a difference.” Although most of TerraCycle’s programs are free, like their writing instruments recycling program with Staples, some—like its snack wrapper Zero Waste Box—require an upfront cost to buy and ship a mail-in box, which can be easily accomplished through the company’s website. “Much of the success surrounding TerraCycle’s free recycling programs can be attributed to the efforts of the students, parents and faculty of participating schools,” said TerraCycle CEO and founder Tom Szaky. “After all, teaching sustainable habits, like recycling, at an early age not only benefits the natural world in the present but also helps build environmentally-conscious adults to take these lessons into future generations.”
Also, investigate Crayola’s coloured markers recycling program, and Call2Recycle that accepts small, spent household batteries.
WASTE AUDITS: Conduct a waste audit by looking into your classroom’s trash bin. What can still be reused, repaired, repurposed, recycled or composted?
LOCAL ACTIVISTS: Kingston born Gord Downie’s commitment to Waterkeeper Lake Ontario and the actions of Water Walker Josephine Mandamin and her Water Protector grand-daughter, Autumn Peltier, inspired Ms. Salter and Orgee’s grade 4 classes at Kingston’s Rideau Public School to take an interest in preserving their city’s shoreline bordering Lake Ontario. Whatever terrain surrounds your area, students can learn methods to implement small acts of conservation from resident environmental advocates.
ASSEMBLIES: Invite parents to view videos that feature Greta Thunberg, the renowned 16-year-old Swedish girl who has spoken at the UN and on TED Talks. Engage audiences in participating in discussions.
NATURE GARDEN: In the spring, start seedlings on the classroom windowsill to plant an oasis of flowers and milkweed that will attract pollinators.
ECO FUNDRAISERS: Choose to sell products that have the least environmental impact, such as vegetable/flower seeds. Participate in events that gather items with a market value. Engage in the Recycling Council of Ontario’s “Give a Shirt” program that recovers textiles, or its Plastic Bag Grab Challenge during Earth Week, that demonstrates disposable plastic bag waste.
ADVERTISING: When seeking advertisers for a school yearbook, only deal with companies that have solid environmental standards. Should a fast-food chain wish to place an ad, ensure that they display their drinks in reusable glasses with no straws, stating that you will only advertise the product, not the waste.
ENVIRONMENTAL FAIRS: In 2015, the York Region Board of Education initiated an annual Eco/Environmental Fair entitled the “Building Nature Connection.” Under the leadership of elementary school teacher, Michael Frankfort, this event is hosted at a different elementary school each year. It features student-inquiry action projects alongside eco-partners/organizations. Throughout the day, students experience hands-on/interactive eco-activities as well as attend special workshops in their own classrooms. The after school portion invites educators, along with the school community, to engage in special workshops given by sponsoring eco-partners. Frankfort will share his resources with interested teachers.
WASTE-FREE LUNCHES: During October’s Waste Reduction Week in Canada, students are challenged to bring waste-free lunches. Continue this week’s habit throughout the year.
SINGLE-USE PLASTICS: Have students audit the presence of single-use plastics at your school and find ways to eliminate them.
RE-USE: Engage your school in a re-use campaign. Peterborough’s St. John Catholic Elementary School collects egg cartons and glass jars with lids for the food bank, aluminum can tabs, and plastic milk bags to be made into sleeping mats.
ANTI-IDLING SIGNS: Design “Anti-Idling” posters that are visible in parking areas to encourage parents to turn off their engines while waiting for their children in the school parking lot.
COMPOSTING & VERMICOMPOSTING: By acquiring a school composter, students will divert organics from landfill as well as create a rich soil conditioner for plants and gardens. Having a vermicomposter with red wigglers provides a great learning opportunity in biology. Taking peelings and cores home for their own composter or green bin is another option. In April, the city of Quinte West launched a green bin pilot project at St. Mary’s Catholic School and Prince Charles Public School. Petition councillors to do the same, if your region has an organics collection.
JUNK ART: Design wall murals and sculptures from used items. Students at Pickering’s Rosebank Road Public School and their neighbourhood organization, SoRo Good Neighbours, are saving colourful plastic lids to cut and hang their vision of fluttering butterflies on a chain-link fence. The butterfly image supports awareness of their community’s pollinator garden. Consider decorating your boring fences, with the bonus of having your teacher’s art budget stretch further by utilizing discarded resources.
SCHOOL TRIPS: Before embarking on a school excursion, be mindful of its carbon footprint and discuss how you can reduce its overall impact.
GRADUATION: At the end of the school year, seek ways to green graduation celebrations.
As Greta said, “We need hope, of course we do, but the one thing we do need is action. Without action, there is no hope.”
By making the connection between our everyday negative habits, teachers can engage students to become future leaders for a healthier planet.
Greta Thunberg on TED Talks: youtube.com/watch?v=EAmmUIEsN9A
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Larraine writes children’s illustrated adventure books on composting and pollinating. Please visit castlecompost.com.
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s February 2019 issue.