Every year students and staff look forward to watching the atrium at Alma School come alive with green as several varieties of trees sprout from seeds planted by students. The Upper Grand school stands proudly among three Ontario schools that ﬂy an Earth II banner. Alma School participates in the SEEDS Foundation Green Schools project, ﬁrst introduced to Canadian schools 30 years ago.
Designed to encourage students to be environ- mentally responsible and take personal action at school and with their families, the Green Schools Program recognizes schools for completing environmental projects, anywhere from 20 projects for Bronze to 3,000 for Earth III status. To date, only one school in Canada has reached Earth III, while the number of Earth II schools with 2,000 projects recently rose to 11. There are 244 Earth I schools.
Tree planting is one such project. Once they are hardy enough, Alma’s seedlings will be taken to a local nursery to mature for future planting in the community. If a single tree had been planted for each Green Schools project completed in the past 30 years, a forest of over 600,000 trees would currently be growing coast to coast. More impressive than imagining such a gigantic canopy of green is the idea that a new generation of teachers and students appears to be taking up the challenge. Protecting the legacy left behind by former students and retired teachers, junior environmentalists continue to embrace old projects while building a vision of their own.
Like growing trees, achieving such ambitious milestones takes time. Only a select few reach the top. “It took Alma 10 years to reach Earth II. There were many, many projects along the way,” said Sarah-Jane Olszewski, Alma’s kindergarten teacher/librarian.
There are challenges
Staff turnover was one of the school’s biggest challenges. “We reached Green status with 250 projects in 1992. Gord Black was the driving force behind achieving Earth status, until he retired. Then Lee Wilson took up the challenge of leading us to Earth II status,” said Olszewski. Wilson has now also retired. “We try to live up to our Earth II by remembering the “little” things like asking staff and parents to ‘lug a mug’ instead of using Styrofoam. We want to pick it up again, but new teachers, programs, and ideas keep us busy,” Olszewski said.
Alma’s principal, Randal Wagner, supports his school’s focus on the environment. “I don’t think the goal is to become an Earth School. I think the aim should be to become environmentally friendly because it’s the right thing for a school community to do. If the Earth School designation becomes part of that, then that’s great. In future, I think we’ll try to do a number of small projects as we work toward Earth III.”