Growing sustainability through education: teaching children environmental responsibility

These brightly coloured fish were created by the kids of St. Augustine's Elementary. Photo by Yai&JR.

 

Childhood education is perhaps one of the most underrated ways to build towards a sustainable future. While adults are busy trying to change their habits, public education offers the opportunity to instill the values of sustainability in children from the very start.

As public schools often strive to be positive fixtures in their local communities, there are always plenty of opportunities for young green minds to apply these values in an impactful way.

“That’s a really important point,” trustee Mike Lombardi of the Vancouver School Board said. “One of our goals as an establishment is to become the greenest school district in North America.”

The VSB intends to meet this goal through the adoption of a strategic sustainability plan, which according to Lombardi will be released this April.

The plan will outline long-term strategies including several initiatives based on student participation. The aim is to not only be the greenest school district on the continent, but to also educate kids on the value of such a commitment.

Lombardi said the plan will contain several different components, including food-based initiatives like composting and gardening. Recycling and energy conservation will also play a prominent role in the plan.

What this means: at the school level

Mike McEwan is the Principal of Edith Cavell Elementary School on West 20th Avenue.

“There’s all kinds of programs that go through the curriculum that teach kids about their responsibilities,” McEwan said. “It has to be something you’re always talking about.”

McEwan said that educators strive to integrate social responsibility as part of their daily lessons. From English to math, students often receive reminders of the importance of sustainability and conservation.

But beyond the classroom, schools recognize their role as fixtures of the local communities they serve. As such, students, educators, and parents often find ways to take these lessons outside of the school.

“The PAC (Parent Advisory Council) is interested in getting some kind of a teaching garden here,” McEwan offered as one such example. “Our leadership students are going to be involved in either the planting or maintaining of a traffic circle.” These roundabout traffic circles with gardens in the middle have become a regular sight on Vancouver’s roads.

Vancouver roundabouts may be a nuisance to drivers, but they offer more green space in a heavily paved city. Photo by Spacing Magazine.

 

Another example is the work of school kids around salmon enhancement. Community initiatives take the form of painting fish on storm sewers to remind locals to be careful what they dump down the drain.

“That whole social responsibility thread goes through a lot of what we do at all of the levels,” McEwan added.

What this means: cooperation with the city

Vancouver’s own commitment to a green future can, and often is, integrated with the aims of other levels of governance.

As a means of educating children, the city sponsors a two-person theatrical troupe called Dream Rider Theatre. Their mission: to educate kids in environmental awareness.

You can check out videos of some of their work here.

Schools like Edith Cavell Elementary can book the performances free of charge, thanks to city sponsorship.

McEwan said that educating kids in sustainability requires constant input from educators, the community, and parents. This is why it is so vital to integrate the lessons into the normal daily routines of schools.

Looking forward, McEwan predicted more cooperation between those tasked with teaching our youth.

“I would only expect that as these initiatives come forward, as it becomes more and more important, that we all take responsibility.”