The École catholique Sainte-Marguerite-Bourgeoys welcomed 100 high school students to the first ever UNI-VERT Student Earth Summit at their Kemptville campus on Thursday. Student representatives from every school across the Conseil Des Écoles Catholique Du Centre-Est (CECCE) were invited to the summit, designed to encourage students to become environmental advocates and to spark conversation about building a green and sustainable future for their communities.
The first part of the day was taken up by presenters who spoke to the students about various topics involving the environment and climate change. Students learned about the importance of electric cars, renewable energy sources, the impact of climate change on the environment and wildlife, the importance of clean water, and even environmental psychology. “We learned about how to change people’s behaviour when it comes to our ecosystem,” says Aaliyah Fleury, a Grade 9 student at Sainte-Marguerite Bourgeoys. “It amazed me to see how we can open people’s eyes about how we can help.”
In the second part of the day, students were asked to come together in their school groups and come up with a project that would help their school become carbon neutral. “We have made the commitment, as a school board, to become the first school board in Eastern Ontario to become carbon neutral by 2035,” says Superintendent of Education responsible for Sustainability and Eco-Citizenship, Danielle Chatlain. “We want to have the students involved [in this goal].”
The summit is the culmination of months of work by CECCE staff members, but also by students, who served as advisors during the planning stages. Grade 12 student, Isabelle Galipeau of École secondaire catholique Beatrice Des-Loges in Orléans, was one of eight students selected to help form what the day would look like. “It’s really exciting to see it come together, because we have been working for so many months,” she said. “They really listened to our vision.”
Isabelle is an environmental advocate at heart, who re-invigorated her school’s environmental club to try and get her peers interested in the environment. She says it’s hard to get high school students engaged with environmental issues and she is encouraged by the amount of enthusiasm the summit is producing among her fellow students. “I’m finding that they are really interested in it,” she says. “They are going to be more environmentally conscious.”
The CECCE also announced at the summit that they will be sending one student from their Board to the Arctic this Summer with Students on Ice, an organization that educates youth (14-20) about the importance of the earth’s polar regions. The hope is that the student selected will be able to come back and share their knowledge with other students and their community. “It’s such an amazing opportunity,” Danielle says. “I expect to get a lot of applications.”
The board is committed to using environmental issues as a learning context for its students. They are in the process of having many of their buildings retrofitted to be more eco-friendly, and will be encouraging students to become involved with this process. Sainte-Marguerite Bourgeoys also offers a Human and Planetary Health concentration, starting in Grade 7, which educates students about holistic ways of living sustainably. “It’s about everything from nutrition and how you eat, to the environment,” says Lanark, Leeds and Grenville School Trustee, Anouk Tremblay.
Danielle feels encouraged by the enthusiasm of the students, and hopes that this is the first of many UNI-VERT summits throughout the years. “I am really confident that they can make a difference,” she says.