York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies supports local EcoSchool

York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) celebrated Earth Day on April 21 by making a contribution to a local school. As part of the FES partnership with Ontario EcoSchools, Dean Joni Seager attended Shoreham Public School’s Earth Day celebration and presented the principal with a certificate and cheque in recognition of Shoreham’s outstanding achievements in the EcoSchools program

“You should all be very proud of the great work you’re doing,” said Seager. “The Faculty of Environmental Studies is pleased to support your efforts and to participate in the advancements in environmental education provided by the EcoSchools program.”

Above: Students at Shoreham Public School performing the promise pledge
“Kids for Saving Earth”

Ontario EcoSchools is designed to help school boards and schools teach students to live in a more sustainable way. The program was initially launched by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). When the TDSB decided to explore ways to share the program with other Ontario school boards, they approached FES Professor Lewis Molot to chair the Ontario EcoSchools organizing committee — and to help recruit experts in the Faculty to provide advice on climate change.

The broadened program received initial support in Fall 2003 through funding from the federal government for climate change education for Ontario. Through Ontario EcoSchools, elementary and secondary teachers are provided with climate change resources based on the Ontario curriculum, as well as guides to help people act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But the program is unique in that it goes beyond the classroom, demonstrating how to apply what is taught in the classroom to school operations such as facilities. It also supports schools in creating extra-curricular activities that reinforce classroom learning about sustainability.

Today, the program has a broad reach, with participating boards representing over 50 per cent of the schools in Ontario. The key to this success, according to Molot, is that Ontario EcoSchools is a board-driven project. “Since key figures in the board were involved in developing the EcoSchools program, they not only support but promote its use in schools,” he says.

The program is also supported and promoted by FES, which provides office space for EcoSchools and hosts the EcoSchools resources on the Faculty’s Web site. This year, FES decided to expand its support by specifically honouring an outstanding EcoSchool. As it turned out, Shoreham Public School, which is located just west of the Keele campus across the Black Creek, was the obvious choice.

Shoreham is an excellent example of a school that has thrived under the EcoSchools program. The school had an active “green team” that set up a recycling program and followed other sustainable practices even before the EcoSchools program came along. “But EcoSchools helped them focus their efforts and offered some practical resources,” said EcoSchools’ Project Coordinator Catherine Mahler. “It also provided a Certification process by which the school could be recognized for the great work they were doing.”

Certification involves schools being rated on the steps they have taken towards sustainability. Schools can be certified as Bronze, Silver or Gold-level EcoSchools. Shoreham was Gold from the beginning – and their enthusiastic participation in their Earth Day celebration, which included songs, skits and creative movements, illustrated how proud they are of that fact. “As a Gold-level EcoSchool, Earth Day is very important to our school culture,” said Gord Kingsmill, principal of Shoreham Public School.