Eco Schools: Energizing Environmental Education in Ontario

Ron Ballentine, Catherine Mahler

The Ontario EcoSchools program is one of the most effective programs for addressing ETFO’s priority of care and protection of the environment. Across Ontario, schools and school boards are turning to this program to address climate change and to help fulfill the requirements of the Ministry of Education’s Environmental Education Policy Framework. The EcoSchools program provides resources and strategies to engage students in environmentally responsible practices and help them develop ecological literacy. Schools can participate in an annual certification process that recognizes their achievements in energy conservation, waste minimization, school ground greening, and the development of ecological literacy. These are the four pillars of the EcoSchools program. Here is a look at how three Ontario schools have used the program.

Ecological literacy

Robert Little PS, a K–5 school in Acton, was one of the first schools in the Halton District School Board to become a certified EcoSchool; it has maintained that status for the past three years. The school is part of the Ontario Focused Intervention Program and – true to their “gold Eco-heart” – teachers chose the theme of Protecting the Environment as a schoolwide focus to address the literacy learning needs of their students.

Teachers and support staff engaged students in community walks, scavenger hunts in the schoolyard and nearby natural areas, and in planting trees, building birdhouses, and creating a school garden. The whole school watched  The Lorax (an adaptation of the Dr. Seuss story depicting environmental destruction and restoration) and took part in a follow-up compare and contrast activity. As part of the gradual release of responsibility, students participated in modelled reading, shared reading, guided reading, and independent reading experiences, with care and protection of the environment as the context. As students applied their learning, they created their own illustrated posters and non-fiction books. Those in the youngest grades created Plasticine images.

To prepare for the initiative, staff determined students’ learning needs and identified language curriculum expectations related to comprehension, inferencing, text forms, and text features as their focus. They chose non-continuous text as the main text form. This focus also fit with the School Effectiveness Plan goal related to reading and critical thinking that they had previously identified. Staff held several planning meetings, including meetings with board consultants; gathered a variety of resources; and determined this pre-assessment question to pose to all students: “What might you do to protect the environment and keep it safe? Use evidence from the text and your own ideas to give your answer.”

The post-assessment showed that the results were outstanding. As international research indicates (see seer. org), using the environment as a context for learning leads to increased student engagement and improved achievement. Students’ ecological literacy learning was directly connected to and supported accomplishments in teamwork and leadership,



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