Posts by Sean

Going from Project to Impact

Hello, Prince of Wales Secondary!

“How do we move away from fossil fuel?

How is it fair that climate change disproportionately affects developing states who did the least to cause it? What is the structure of the Paris Climate Agreement?” asked students at Prince of Wales Secondary.

Young people aren’t interested in superficial conversation on climate change. They’re interested in learning the complicated, complex, but important details.

They’ve started good sustainable initiatives including a bike shop, sustainability week, student council, and a bottle drive.

I started talking about the bike shop with the student leaders. They wanted to open up a bike shop at school to help students fix their bikes and, in turn, encourage biking over driving. But, their objectives were unclear.

I asked them: “What’s the impact? Is it to build a long term habit of biking? Is it to promote physical exercise for the community’s health benefits? Is it to reduce GHG emissions by riding a bike to school, instead of a car?

If these are the objectives, why do you need to fix bikes? Is that the best use of the school’s resources to set up a shop to achieve any of the objectives above?”

Helen, a student council representative, agreed that they hadn’t really thought about that. She’s excited to start having hard talks with her student council on how and why they do things. She wants to incorporate an impact and measure of success to their planning in the future.

And I hope they will. I hope that these passionate students launch well-researched, data-driven, impactful projects to help shape their community’s future into the kind of future they want.

Sincerely,

Steve

Sowing Seeds of Sustainability

Hello again, Kumsheen Secondary!

What is an action project?

At every school, we challenge students to solve their community’s biggest sustainability challenge. We help students analyze and develop solutions to the identified challenge. This is what we call an “action project”. Our full-time sustainability project consultants (mentors) across Canada provide mentorship for every school, helping them complete their project.

Climate change is a big problem. But, when students measure their climate actions, they turn climate change into a real, tangible issue that they, and their generation, can face.

The student-led action project at Kumsheen was a garden.

  • Students wrote letters to local organizations to get seeds.
  • Students researched what kind of seeds would work with the local climate.
  • Students designed a banner for the “sharing and learning fair”.
  • Students presented the garden to the rest of their school.
  • Students shared the produce at the fair.
  • Students wrote thank you letters to farms and groups that supported them.
  • Students practiced project management with goals, targets, and timeline.

The real fruits of the garden was the student learning experience. Students learned about food security, and developed solutions to produce sustainability in the local context.

They were proud of starting this garden, growing things, and enjoying the produce for their school and local community.

This is why we exist.

We know youth-led climate action alone will not solve climate change. But, those who work towards climate solutions at a young age are much more likely to challenge the status quo in the future. We envision a future where every young person grows to make their personal and professional choices reflect a sustainable future.

A Glimpse Into The Future We Want

Mamma mia, here we go again: Hello, Brookswood Secondary!

An Indigenous teacher opened the assembly. I had 70 minutes. Students signed up to be at the assembly. It was exam season for them. They were attentive, quiet, and had interesting questions for me. We had a great discussion together.

I asked students: “What are three skills you need to create the future we want?”

They answered: Creativity, innovation, communication, courage, empathy, listening, problem-solving, and leadership.

Hannah and Josh, the co-presidents of the school’s student council, approached me after the assembly. They asked me how they could run their student council more effectively. I sat with them through lunch to hear their stories and to come up with a game plan until June.

I’ve been to many schools. At every school, I see glimpses of the kind of future we want. At Brookswood Secondary, I saw it in two student leaders.

Let me introduce you to Hannah and Josh.

Hannah is in grade twelve. She joined student council to help create community at her school through school spirit, school-wide activities, and by setting common school goals. She knows that, especially in a big school, it’s easy to feel isolated and feel like there’s no one there for you. She wants to fix this. She’s been through it. It’s not something she wants anyone else to feel at her school.

Josh is also in grade twelve. He is passionate and hardworking. Josh is applying to neuroscience programs for university, so he can better understand mental health. He wants Brookswood to be a more empowering space for the marginalized. He knows that high school can be a tough time, and he’s been there. He doesn’t want others to feel that, without knowing there’s a strong support base and community for them at school.

We brainstormed four priorities for student council, until June:

  1. Maintain the Council by running events that are expected by the Council;
  2. Tell an exciting story of the Council to attract others to want to join it too;
  3. Cultivate new leaders from younger grades who will continue the Council and have a longer overlap transition period; and
  4. Set the fundamental, Constitutional structures of the Council

Hannah and Josh are pictures of bold and empathetic leadership. They’re driven by a vision of changing their world, and the future of their school, to the world and future they want. Big solutions don’t always have to start at the global level. It starts with two students that have the interests of their peers at heart.

You can change your school. Change your town. Change your province. Change your country. Change your world. It all begins at home.

I wish the best to both Hanna and Josh. If you’re interested in making a difference at Brookswood, contact Hanna and Josh. They’ve got a place for you at student council.

Sincerely,

Steve

Hello, from Nechako Valley!

After the assembly, I talked with some student leaders. They’ve run a successful e-waste drive and have a water walk coming up for the school’s Water Week.

“What is the expected impact of your water walk?

What do you consider to be success?

How do you intend to measure success? Is it the number of dollars raised? Is it the number of participants? Is it the awareness of water issues?

How do you measure the improvement? Is it the reduction of water use in the school?” I asked the student leaders.

Blank faces. Bright, curious eyes. I’m thrilled. This is why I’m here.

This is a good starting point. Young people are smart. They’re not going to continue putting labour into fruitless projects.

If we don’t want high-school sustainability projects to be empty exercises, we need to start equipping our students with the ability to turn innovative ideas into impactful long-term projects.

And that’s what we hope to do. For every school we visit, we challenge students to solve their community’s biggest sustainability challenge. We help students identify, analyze, and develop solutions to their community’s biggest sustainability challenge. In turn, our full-time sustainability project consultants across Canada provide mentorship for all interested students.

Sincerely,

Steve

Hello, from Smithers!

Visiting the town’s local high school, I witnessed tremendous potential for youth action. Over the last six years, teachers and students have started environmental initiatives that are unlike anything I’ve seen anywhere else in Canada.

SSS Youth Action is an active group of dedicated students and teachers, Mr. Hubert, Mr. Rath, and Mrs. Cunningham. Together this group has tackled social justice and environmental issues including the initiation of a compost system, a bicycle powered charge station for cell phones and to make smoothies, microgreens grown for snacks in classrooms, the invention of a rocket retort to convert the woodshop’s sawdust into biochar, a Vegucation website, a 4000 sq ft garden, and the construction of a biomeiller and geodesic dome for year round growing.  SSS Youth Action has won provincial and national awards (BC Green Games and Staples Ecovator Contest) for their efforts.  Smithers Secondary students have benefited greatly by being involved with these eco-innovations.

The mastermind behind these inventions is teacher Rick Hubert, who is a climate change leader.

He’s made machinery and equipment at his metal shop to create a more energy efficient and sustainable Smithers. Hubert has been recognized with the Prime Minister’s Award for teaching excellence.

To help his wife fight cancer, he started looking for ​more nutritious and better sourced agricultural food.

This led to the creation of the first biomeiller and geodesic dome in the region.  Hubert has put much of his own time into these projects, and much has been funded by grants he applied for. At one point, part of his teaching load was assigned to working on green initiatives and running the geodesic dome with students, but over the past years, the school has faced a large decline in population and as a result, a decrease in budget.  Hubert’s teaching schedule no longer allows time for a “green block” so it’s become impossible for him to keep things running.  The geodesic dome hasn’t been operating for the past two years.

Recently, there’s been talk of scrapping the geodesic dome altogether. It’s a hard situation for everyone at Smithers Secondary. Teachers acknowledge that the budget decline is a very real and serious problem; in equal measure, they see the enormous educational benefits of such climate innovations for students.

We see it too.

This is why we do this tour. We want to highlight climate solutions that educators and students are building in high schools across Canada.

Smithers, you inspire us – and the rest of Canada – with your steps towards real climate action. We are rooting for you, and the return of the biodome to Smithers Secondary.

Sincerely,

Steve