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article imageAre Toronto-area schools going green?

By Krista Simpson     May 3, 2010 in World
Toronto - It is small, practical steps that prepare the children of today to become the environmentally conscious adults of tomorrow. How are Toronto area schools earning their green credibility?
Growing up in the '80s and '90s, the environment was certainly an issue on my radar. I read Chickadee magazine. I remember my family getting our first recycling bin and backyard composter. Still, environmental promotion seemed more niche than mainstream, at least in my mind.
I also remember seeing that change over the next several years. In 1995, Michael Hough published his book Cities and Natural Process. He writes about an increasing awareness that humanity and nature are connected. Still, Hough laments that “the urban experience of 'nature' is to a large extent a 'disneyfied' experience: too often relegated to the visit to the zoo... It has been said that children know more about nature in distant lands than they do about the natural things in their own backyards, neighbourhoods and cities.”
To address this problem, Hough advocates for early, practical education: “Environmental education is more than the biology lesson in the classroom or the yearly trip to the nature centre. These are no substitute for constant and direct experience assimilated through daily exposure to, and interaction with, the places people live in.”
Fast forward to the present. “Green” is now common vernacular and the environmental movement has gone mainstream. A former U.S. vice-president has taken on the issue in an award-winning documentary. There have even been a 24-hour series of concerts across the world to raise awareness about the earth's condition. Cities everywhere are making an effort to become greener, and the Greater Toronto Area is no exception.
In June 2008, the Toronto City Summit Alliance published their “Greening Greater Toronto” report, outlining initiatives to make the city and its suburbs “the greenest city region in North America.” The plan is detailed and ambitious. Its primary goals are to reduce carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, promote clean air and water, reduce and manage waste, and improve sustainable land use and expanded greenspace. One of their key initial initiatives to accomplish this: practical education.
It makes me wonder if green education has permeated a foundational GTA institution: the public education system. So I ask someone who knows a lot more about this issue than I do: my 13-year-old sister. She tells me about the most eco-friendly teacher in her school, Mrs. Liska. Mrs. Liska, she says, is the teacher who has a worm compost in her class and puts “turn off the lights” stickers on all the switches.
Lindsay Liska, who teaches grades six and seven at Coledale Publc School, tells me more about her projects. Last year, she led the school’s effort to gain provincial eco-school certification. Their major focus was energy reduction. Her team of volunteers and students encouraged simple initiatives like making sure lights and computer monitors were turned off when students were out of the classroom, including during recess.
Another big project included reducing hazardous wastes by providing battery, ink cartridge and cell phone recycling stations. This was geared towards involving the student’s parents, encouraging them to think more about the environment too.
Liska’s campaign helped the school earn silver level eco-certification, which she says is impressive for their first year. These kinds of initiatives are not required by the school board and much of the school’s success has been because of Liska’s personal commitment to environmental issues. Still, she believes that individuals at her and many other local schools are working to become more eco-friendly. “I think it’s just logical, so they’re pushing it,” she says.
Like me, Liska has seen education on environmental issues change over time. “When I was in school, it was all reduce, reuse, recycle—very basic,” she says. Now students realize being environmentally friendly is more than just throwing their pop can in the recycle bin. “The basic stuff is second nature to them.” Students are now more aware of the bigger picture, including how corporations and their policies can impact the environment.
Liska agrees with Hough that eco-education needs to extend far beyond the classroom. She says that environmental awareness is “becoming more important in life.” So she will keep educating the next generation, the children who will be designing, working and living in the cities of tomorrow.
The kids, she says, are keen to take on the challenge. They are the proof that small projects can make a big difference in creating a greener future for us all.
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