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Making School a Greener Place
EcoSchools and Ontario EcoSchools
The Toronto District School Board
A First in Canada
In 1999, the Toronto District School Board did something no other school board in Canada had done before. It made the decision to create a new, separate Department of Environmental Education. Environmental education (EE) is not a separate subject in the curriculum in Ontario, but school board administrators felt that learning about the environment and acting to protect it were important. They appointed a group of special staff to support environmental learning in Toronto’s public schools. The department was given a five-year mandate to create environmental education curriculum support and programs.
Over their first three years, the staff in this new department did two important basic things. The first was to set up a process that involved many people in helping to draw up an environmental policy for the school board. The second was to create a document called An Integrated Environmental Education Framework for Ontario, which showed teachers where in the required Ontario elementary curriculum, in different subject areas, they find topics suited to teaching students the environment.
With the participation of people from all board departments and across school communities, the department of Environmental Education then created an Environment Policy Implementation Team (EPIT). The team’s task was to decide what actions would make the Toronto District. School Board (TDSB) better able to teach about environmental issues, and better equipped to act in environmentally responsible ways in everyday school life.
Many Ways to Make School Greener
The Toronto District School Board has taken some exceptional steps towards becoming a more environmentally friendly institution.
- They have become the first school board in North America to adopt an environmental audit program called ISO 14,001. They use it to look at all their operations from an environmental perspective (transportation, purchasing, building, energy use, etc.). This program commits them to “continual improvement” on environmental performance.
- They have carried out a study on energy use in all 650 schools in order to find out where they can best plan for energy conservation.
- They have undertaken an experiment in using “biofuels” for some of their school buses, with 20% of fuel content made from soybeans. This type of fuel is both cleaner for the air and healthier for bus passengers.
- They have bought new paper-saving photocopy machines for schools and offices.
- Over 200 TDSB schools are involved in gardening.
And to help teachers and students implement the Environment Policy, the TDSB Department of Environmental Education created a program called EcoSchools. This program, which focuses on the four categories of Ecological Literacy, Energy Conservation, Waste Minimization, and Schoolground Greening, offers many ways for all TDSB schools both to learn about the environment and act in ways which help to preserve a clean, healthy environment for the future. The symbol of a green leaf was adopted to represent “greening” in all these categories.
What is EcoSchools?
EcoSchools is a system-wide environmental initiative in the Toronto District School Board designed to improve environmental education for all students. But it is not only for the classroom. Since environmental learning involves doing as well as acquiring new knowledge about environmental issues, this program is designed to help everyone in schools learn how to actually understand and help reduce their school’s “ecological footprint,” or overall environmental impact. It is about environmental learning that helps learners to “walk the talk.”
The EcoSchools Program The Four Areas
In the EcoSchools program, environmental learning is fostered through support in four selected areas:
ECOLOGICAL LITERACY – Environmental knowledge is acquired across subject areas science, social studies, language, the arts and is reinforced by hands-on experience in “greening” schools in their everyday practices. The Ecological Literacy component is to provide teachers with support to teach essential knowledge and skills of ecological literacy using the Ontario curriculum.
WASTE MINIMIZATION – Canada is the second highest creator of municipal solid waste (garbage) in the world. As the country’s largest school board, the TDSB is dedicated to minimizing its waste. They have set standards for all schools to guide them in working towards this goal.
SCHOOL-GROUND GREENING – Bringing nature to school through the addition of plants, and particularly Ontario native species, to school grounds, is a powerful way to help students learn first-hand how nature works. TDSB schools’ “outdoor classrooms,” butterfly gardens, ponds, organic food gardens, “go wild” patches (unmowed), shade trees, small habitats provide special additions to science, language and arts programs.
The EcoSchools Process Getting Everyone on Board
To help school communities organize their participation in EcoSchools, the program offers a Five-Step Process:
1. Establish an EcoTeam which includes members from all parts of the school community;
2. Carry out an EcoReview to decide on the school’s environmental needs;
3. Discuss the EcoReview to identify priorities and develop an Action Plan;carry out projects in the Action Plan with emphasis on whole-school participation;
4. Monitor and evaluate progress towards set goals. Recognize and celebrate success!
EcoSchools is designed to make environmental awareness and action an integral part of school life!
For the 2002-2003 school year, the Toronto District School Board introduced Waste Minimization and Energy Conservation standards. These standards outline minimum day-to-day practices and behaviours that schools are expected to follow. For Waste Minimization, good practices include reducing, reusing and recycling paper; reducing food-related waste, avoiding disposable items where possible, and reusing furniture and equipment by advertising unwanted items on the TDSB Electronic Trading Post. Energy Conservation standards are to be met by involving everyone in schools in turning off unneeded lights, in turning off computer monitors and peripherals (printers, scanners) when not in use, in networking equipment such as printers where possible, and in purchasing energy-efficient replacement equipment. In terms of heating and air conditioning, standard procedures recommend that windows and curtains be closed as the end of the day, that outside doors not be left open any longer than necessary, and that schools follow board standard room temperatures and make best use of computer-controlled temperature systems.
The EcoSchools program provides an EcoTeam Guide, plus posters, resources, strategies, staff support and workshops to help teachers get their schools involved in working towards these environmental standards.
Introducing Ecological Literacy and Schoolground Greening to All TDSB Schools
The Ecological Literacy and Schoolground Greening components are currently supported by summer institutes and workshops for interested teachers. They will be introduced to the whole TDSB school system in the 2003-2004 school year.
Putting the Environment in School Plans
In Toronto public schools, principals draw up a School Plan every year to decide what will be areas of particular attention and focus for that school year. As part of their commitment to making EcoSchools a success, TDSB board administrators made it a requirement that all school principals include an environmental component in their annual school plans. This is an important step in making school greening become a mainstream activity and another Toronto first!
A Great New Opportunity to Learn about Climate Change ·.in Your Classroom!
EcoSchools Goes Province-Wide Supported by Environment Canada’s Climate Change Action Fund
In 2002, Toronto District School Board staff teamed up with a group of partners and applied to Environment Canada for funding to create a new program that would take the EcoSchools program province-wide. They wanted to make this new, expanded version of the program, focused on climate change and sustainable living, available to all students in Ontario.
The Ontario EcoSchools program is designed to be used by school boards or individual schools. It includes sixteen guides and three multi-media presentations organized into four categories: Getting Started, Connecting to the Elementary Curriculum, Connecting to the Secondary Curriculum and Enriching your Program.
The EcoSchools team has done everything they could to make it easy for school boards, schools, teachers and classes to get involved in the program. They’ve created a concise guide to provide an overview of the Ontario EcoSchools program, and set out a practical five-step method for successful implementation. The five steps are: (1) establish an EcoTeam, (2) assess the school’s needs, (3) identify priorities and develop an action plan, (4) implement the action plan, and (5) monitor and evaluate progress.
The Introductory EcoSchool Guide is available on line, downloadable free of charge
Three multi media presentations are available to help both teachers and students become better informed about climate change. They cover
- Changing Climate, Changing Attitudes
- The Impacts of Climate Change
- The Science of Climate Change
Three written resources help teachers link climate change to Ontario’s elementary curriculum. They focus on
- Waste Minimization
- Energy Conservation
- Systems Thinking
These teaching resources are downloadable (free of charge)
At the secondary level, EcoSchools offers teaching resources especially designed to help students learn about climate change issues within existing courses:
- Grade 9 Geography
- Grade 10 Civics
- Grade 10 Science
- Grade 11/12 Science
- Grade 11/12 Geography
- Grade 12 Interdisciplinary Studies: Climate Change and Your Future
All these teaching resources are downloadable (free of charge) at http://www.yorku.ca/fes/envedu/secondary.asp
Another Way to Cleaner Air
City of Toronto
Find out all about this EcoSchools partner program.
EcoSchools for You Check it Out!
The creation of these programs is a terrific example of people working together within the education community to help spread positive ways to work on climate change. If you’re a teacher – or a student (suggest EcoSchools to your teacher!) – you can take a look at the good learning opportunities available through EcoSchools and see how you can make climate change a part of your learning experience.
1. What is the purpose of the EcoSchools program?
2. List at least 5 things that the Toronto District School Board started in 2002-03 to reduce the amount of energy used and the amount of waste produced.
3. Describe some ways that you and your classmates already do that make your school a ‘greener’ place. List 5 new ideas that you could do in the future.