Environmental consciousness in schools is spreading like dandelions on a large pesticide-free lawn.
The Toronto District School Board boasted 259 eco-certified schools in the 2007–2008 academic year and that’s expanded to 310 in 2008–2009.
Being an eco school means not just teaching students about the environment but putting those lessons into practise. Schools in the program conduct waste audits and minimize garbage on site, conserve energy and create sustainable school grounds.
Not only is the number of eco-schools growing in the board, but so is the level of environmental stewardship. For the first time the public school board has added a new platinum level above and beyond the gold, silver and bronze ratings.
Eighteen academic institutes, including Maurice Cody Public School, have just achieved the new platinum status.
When principal Shona Farrelly and teacher Rick Hay speak about the midtown school’s super green ways, it’s like a pair of proud parents showing off an accomplished child.
“You can’t become a platinum eco-school overnight,” says Hay during a tour of his school. “It takes time for it to seep into your pores.
“The environment is a high priority for kids and parents,” he added. “For example most kids who eat at school have a reusable lunch container and drink cup.”
This helps with initiatives like litterless lunches where students leave no waste behind. The school even made a how-to video, which they posted online.
“If we host meetings and they bring bottled water, we ask them to take it back with them and we provide tap water in glasses,” says Farrelly.
At the school fair, they sold reusable mugs for $3 so they didn’t need disposable cups for drinks.
On Walking Wednesday kids are encouraged to walk to school. Students get their hand stamped when they participate and each class monitors its participation rate, which often reaches 100 percent.
“The kids track how far they walk to school and add it up on our Trans Canada Trail (map),” Hays says.
Even teachers get into the act by bringing reusable mugs for when they get take out coffee.
“There is a whole school wide culture,” Hay explains.
Then there’s the star of the show, the schoolyard green space that includes Carolinian Woodland plants, a spiral garden and council ring.
During the tour, we find two moms and three toddlers, who are too young for this school, playing in the garden.
There is pent up demand for schools to flourish on the environmental stage, says Richard Christie, the board’s program coordinator for ecological literacy and sustainable development.
“The TDSB created eco-schools and we gave (the program) away to other boards and gradually it has been growing,” Christie says. “For a long time schools wanted to be greener.”
Christie says his board is also trying to remove barriers to allow its schools to do better.
“Every year we offer workshops to teachers to learn more deeply about ecological literacy,” he says. “We are trying to direct more resources to eco-schools.”
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