Scott Young Public School is a grade 5 to 8 school in Omemee, a community west of Peterborough. The school is the home of an award-winning environmental education program.
Our school is situated on 13 hectares, roughly five of which are occupied by the school itself. The Trillium Lakelands District School Board initially planned to build a high school on the remaining eight hectares, but when circumstances and plans changed, these lands were put to good use: hands-on education.
Our Ecosystem 2000 project was born in 1994. Our target date for positively affecting the local ecosystem was five or six years; therefore, the name was a great fit. The project’s main goal is to create habitat and food for a variety of species. As the largest school tree-planting project in Canada, Ecosystem 2000 is extensive and complex. However, students see it more simply: they are working outside not inside, and they are improving the environment, not just studying it.
The last ice age left a large three-hectare drumlin (an elongated whale-shaped hill formed by glacial action) that rests on the trail in our site’s northern section. Students and the community use this area throughout the year for dirt biking, four-wheeling, hiking, relaxing, and tobogganing and sledding. The view from the top is spectacular. The Pigeon River weaves through the rolling hills and valleys into the village’s small lake, to meet up beyond the horizon with the Trent-Severn Waterway.
The site’s educational benefits are enormous. It is used by art classes studying Group of Seven painters; science classes looking for insects; hands-on topography lessons; cross-country and track and field training. But the favourite activity for students is building three-metre-high quinzies (snow shelters) in –20°C weather during three days of outdoor classroom learning.
Just beside our school, a neighbouring farmer ploughed under 0.2 hectares of grass in the spring of 1995. That fall Intermediate students planted 1,500 seedlings (a variety of species, from the Ministry of Natural Resources Orono Nursery). Today, these trees are five to six metres tall. Over the years, my homeroom students have thinned out this area, transplanted hundreds of trees, and trimmed branches so it is easier to walk underneath. This is our shady reading area, a priceless and relaxing environment, especially appreciated when the tree canopy provides full shade from the summer heat and sun.
We have come full circle with this project, as two of the original students involved are now teachers in our school system. They assisted with planting this area as grade 8 students and later were my teaching partners in grade 7 at SYPS.
We have asked our pupils to become stewards of the land. This project is student-based: they get down and dirty. Each of our 240 students