Ontario EcoSchools is an environmental education and certification program for students in Kindergarten through to grade 12 which helps school communities develop both ecological literacy and environmental practices to become environmentally responsible citizens and reduce the ecological footprint of schools.
Patrick Mcleod, Curriculum Consultant with the Board, presented information on the certification process, and what being certified means within the school community.
Participating in the EcoSchools program gives students the opportunity not only to contribute to improving the environment, but also an opportunity to learn about the environment through an integrated curriculum. There are a variety of projects happening within CDSBEO to connect environmental issues with the curriculum. Some examples of activities include planting trees, growing plants, creating school gardens, garbage clean-up, composting, and recycling projects.
“There are many ways that schools show their commitment to the environment,” began Mr. McLeod. “The mission of the EcoSchools program is to nurture environmental leaders, reduce the ecological impact of schools, and build environmentally responsible school communities.”
CDSBEO first began to participate in the EcoSchools program in 2009, with six schools earning their certification. For the 2018-2019 school year, all but three CDSBEO schools are certified, and the Board is ranked fifth in the province for certifications, and is the top school board in Eastern Ontario.
The EcoSchools process begins in early September when school educator leads begin establishing their Eco or Green Teams. By the end of November, schools must perform their first audit and submit the results to EcoSchools.
“Many of our Silver, Gold and Platinum schools will have completed multiple audits and established their eco-goals long before this date,” noted Patrick McLeod.
Schools are assessed in six different areas for their certification: Teamwork and Leadership, Energy Conservation, Waste Minimization, School Ground Greening, Curriculum, and Environmental Stewardship.
“As this year continues, school teams are continuing to actively engage other students and teachers through posters, schools events, information campaigns and making explicit cross-curricular connections,” continued Mr. McLeod.
There are four levels of certification: bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. While freedom is given to create goals and action plans based on the school community, five areas continue to be a main focus for activities around EcoSchools initiatives. These include: Earth Day, student leadership, monitoring energy use, waste audits and school ground greening.
“The schools are very passionate about the EcoSchools initiative,” he noted. “Waste audits are a very important piece, with waste free lunches being a focus. Waste auditing involves weighing the garbage. Composting programs take place at many schools, and are assisted by teachers who take the compost off site. School ground greening is very important and teaches the students through outdoor education areas which include gardens, the installation of bird houses, the planting and maintenance of flowers beds, and larger projects such as greenhouses.”
Mr. McLeod noted one particular initiative at St. Gregory Catholic School which has installed raised garden beds. Food grown in the garden is donated to the local Carleton Place food bank.
“Being fifth in the province is remarkable,” noted Chair Todd Lalonde. “On behalf of the Board of Trustees and the administrative team, we would like to commend you and your team for the great work that is being done in our schools around this initiative.”