Students display their crafting skills. SUPPLIED

Local elementaries devote April and beyond to green initiatives

Thursday, April 22 marked the 51st annual Earth Day. Although students were unable to participate in person on that day, due to the current stay-at-home order, the celebration still encouraged a lot of action.

Despite having to alter their plans for the actual Earth Day, many schools in Pelham have already been taking time over the month of April to observe “Earth Month.” This way they could spread their projects and events over a larger timeframe to expand what they could achieve. For the weeks leading up to the official day, schools reported that they had been starting conversations about the planet, encouraging and leading students in eco-based activities, and working together to make a difference at their school and in the community.

On top of their specific plans to celebrate during the month, students continued the green initiatives already in place during the school year, like litter-free lunches, “lights out” hours, and Good On One Side (G. O. O. S.) paper bins. Outdoor cleanups, school gardens and nature walks were some of the initiatives that schools were involved in leading up to Earth Day, and that are planned to continue throughout the remainder of April, or, in some cases, as a regular occurrence year-round.

The elementary schools in Pelham—St. Alexander, St. Ann, A.K. Wigg, Glynn A. Green and Wellington Heights—all celebrated Earth Day last week and demonstrated their love for the planet in different ways and through their own unique activities.

St. Alexander aims to educate students

Many of St. Alexander’s regular eco-initiatives have been unable to run since last March when schools closed down the first time, and due to the most recent closure their Earth Day celebrations had to be altered as well.

The principal of St. Alexander, Yvonne Benyo, told the Voice that eco-initiatives are usually a huge part of their school and they have numerous programs that normally run throughout the year and coincide with Earth Month, but because of COVID they have been put on pause.

“So recycling and those types of things we can’t do because we can’t mix cohorts and can’t be in other people’s classrooms,” said Benyo. “We feel like it prevents that whole-school community that brings kids together as a unified cause. It’s unfortunate.”

Their whole-school plans for Earth Day originally consisted of a prayer service and each class planting the flower that they had in their classrooms into the outdoor garden. With the change to virtual learning, classes did prayer services individually and were not able to participate in the planting. Despite the changes to their celebration, teachers were able to engage their students in other ways during at-home learning.

A Grade 1/2 split teacher at St. Alexander’s, Jessica Mastroianni, gave her students time during the week of Earth Day to choose fun activities to complete and learn new things through a choice board. On the board were links to Earth-related research, books, a video and activities like making a poster or video, as well as participating in an Earth Day scavenger hunt or art contest. On the April 22, Mastroianni and her class took part in a virtual book reading by author Evelyn Bookless, who shared her book, “Captain Green and The Tree Machine,” which focuses on deforestation.

“We joined their Zoom and we listened to the author talk about her story, read the story and then talk about different ways that people and children can get involved by planting trees, reusing paper and being more Earth-friendly,” Mastroianni said.

Tracy Goodwin, a kindergarten teacher and Eco Team supervisor at St. Alexander, has been educating her students on pollinators and their importance in the weeks before the official day. A few weeks ago she and her class visited the Steve Bauer Trail and left seed packets of wildflowers along the path with a sign they had made. The goal was for people who came across them to take one home to plant in their gardens to help the pollinators.

On Earth Day, Goodwin’s class used recycled items at their houses for a pollinator craft. Bees, butterflies, bats and ladybugs were made from all sorts of materials, like toilet paper rolls, egg cartons and other things found in their blue bins.

Through her role in St. Alexander’s Eco Team, Goodwin has helped students run countless initiatives and programs in past years such as the Walking School Bus, a reusable straw campaign, EcoSchools, and more.

The Walking School Bus promotes an emission-free alternative to students getting driven to school. A volunteer would walk around the neighbourhood, pick up the kids that live nearby and they would walk to and from school together. Last year, Goodwin assisted students with their campaign to sell stainless steel straws to make a larger impact with their litter-less lunch program and limit their waste.

“A part of the straw program was that we could have litter-less lunches, or it’s sometimes called a ‘boomerang lunch,’ which means whatever they bring to school, they bring it home again, so there’s very little garbage,” she said.

This program and the many others they organize have led them to be a top school in EcoSchools Canada. Benyo said that St. Alexander regularly receives the platinum certificate, which is the highest level.

Benyo expressed the importance of educating students on Earth-related issues and guiding them to understand that helping the planet is not only reserved for one day or large initiatives.

“I think it’s hugely important that kids understand how many things actually have to do with Earth Day, it’s not just about conserving energy and turning out the lights, it’s all those little choices that are made each day.”

St. Ann students get their hands dirty

During April, students at St. Ann school in Fenwick have spent lots of time outdoors appreciating the warmer weather and participating in activities to look after their green spaces. This has included planting in their outdoor gardens, cleaning up forest areas and taking nature walks.

I think it’s hugely important that kids understand how many things actually have to do with Earth Day

“Students have been busy planting flowers around the school and cleaning up the gardens. As well, they have planted various types of plants near the portables,” St. Ann principal Paul Moccia told the Voice.

The Eco Team at St. Ann’s was in charge of the Earth Day activities and had some fun ideas for students to engage in on Thursday. A nature walk for each grade was planned, as well as an environmental superhero activity, which was to draw a hero with a special skill or power to help the environment. Students in all grades were going to create rock painting crafts to be put in the gardens as well.

Maria Tremeer, a Grade 1/2 split teacher at St. Ann’s, said that with students learning from home, this day was a little different than most, with teachers reading Earth-related stories online and students coming up with regular activities that they can do with their families at home to help the Earth.

“In the past, we may have used this day to collect garbage along the side of Canboro Road or listen to a presentation about battery recycling,” said Tremeer, “The kids at St. Ann have always been very conscientious about taking care of the Earth and the environment around them. The students regularly clean up the schoolyard and plant flowers and trees.”

Not only have St. Ann students been taking action for Earth Day, but numerous student-run green initiatives occur during the school year. Moccia shared that some programs at the school are wasteless lunch Wednesdays, battery recycling programs, Eco presentations and more led by the Eco Team. Students have also been encouraged to walk or bike to school to reduce emissions from driving and regularly work together in all grades to make an impact on their school and the planet.

“Older students can often be seen teaching younger students so that our school community will continue to care for our Earth in years and generations to come,” Tremeer said.

Over the P.A. system each morning, an eco announcement is shared, which highlights different environmental topics, programs or events happening at the school such as World Water Day, Earth Hour, National GOOS Paper Day, and of course, Earth Day.

Another educational opportunity for students to gain a deeper sense of the environment and some of the issues it faces occurred on March 22, which was World Water Day. The St. Ann community participated in the Great Gulp, which encouraged students to bring in reusable water bottles. The goal was to educate students on the importance of using eco-friendly alternatives to plastic bottles.

“In our classrooms, teachers remind students to be good stewards of the Earth and continue to help emphasize what our Eco team does throughout the school.”

A.K. Wigg, Glynn A. Green and Wellington Heights aim at making a difference

The three DSBN elementary schools in Pelham have been busy this month with numerous programs to celebrate and help the planet.

“Given our shift back to online remote learning, many of the learning activities have and are taking place virtually,” said Mark Leduc, principal at Wellington Heights Public School. “Earlier in the month, while at school participating ‘in-person’ we were able to participate in some of these activities as well.”

The students at these schools have spent a lot of time outdoors for nature walks around their yards to pick up garbage, clean up their butterfly gardens and plant flowers and bulbs. Wellness Walks were also organized to appreciate and identify nature.

Those outdoor activities were brought back into the classroom for hands-on projects and crafts to celebrate Earth Day. Classes at A.K. Wigg, Glynn A. Green and Wellington Heights took part in the “Reuse Challenge,” which was to make a musical instrument using recyclable materials; completed “Bee-U-tiful Bee Expert” research projects; did nature sketching; and created Earth Day posters and a recycling art project. Students also got to participate in recycling scavenger hunts.

In addition to Earth-related activities, classes focused on educating students on many different topics surrounding the planet. Lessons focused on recycling, alternative plastics and UN sustainability goals, as well as the importance of pollinators in daily life.

Students in all different grades learned about many topics and were put up to the challenge of thinking of different ways that they can make an impact. At the three schools, teachers taught lessons on how to become a “Water Hero,” and students identified three things that could make a difference based on what they had learned. They took the time to brainstorm green ideas or commitments to help take care of the earth, as well. After listening to a “Zero Waste” CBC final podcast episode, “Could we create a world without garbage?,”classes also created a plan to reduce waste in their classroom and throughout the school.

Leduc said the learning that students from A.K. Wigg, Glynn A. Green and Wellington Heights were involved with was aimed at building awareness of the importance of taking care of the environment and identifying ways that they can make a difference.

“Our students are learning to look more critically at the impact that all of us can have on protecting the environment and that every act, regardless of how small it may seem, can make a difference.”