Educating the next generation of sustainable champions
These days, we are acutely aware that our environmental footprint is deep and indelible. We know the decisions we make each day – the food we purchase, the way we commute to work, the energy we use – has a direct impact on our environment. And we have learned the importance of instilling a deeper environmental awareness within our own children if a sustainable future is to remain within their grasp.
TRCA has become a trailblazer in the field of environmental education. Since 1954, we have been delivering innovative learning programs in our field centres and in classrooms across the region. In 2012, TRCA’s Education Division continued to chalk up success stories. More education centres were designated as EcoCentres, more educators learned about endangered species, and more students were given the opportunity to participate in outdoor education programs across Ontario.
The Ontario EcoCentres program gives education centres a comprehensive framework to promote the principles of sustainability by changing the behaviour of occupants, operational practices and organizational culture.
TRCA developed this unique certification program through collaboration with eight other local environmental and education organizations. The EcoCentres certification program helps staff at participating sites across the province address 12 areas of sustainability, including energy and water conservation, the enhancement of biodiversity and the pursuit of carbon neutrality. To tackle the issue of climate change, the program shows education centres how to reduce their carbon footprint by operating more efficiently and sustainably.
Educating leaders of tomorrow is at the heart of creating a paradigm shift of responsible environmental stewards who will protect our planet. Environmental education can stimulate thought and action. The hope for the future depends on this new generation’s understanding of environmental issues, and this is why TRCA places a priority on environmental education for the youth.
Brian Denney, CEO, Toronto and Region Conservation
In January 2012, 13 pilot centres received certification in the first year, including five sites operated by TRCA. The Humber Arboretum Centre for Urban Ecology was the first in Ontario to achieve Platinum Certification. The program is led by TRCA, which works with a steering committee made up of representatives from Conservation Halton, Downsview Park, the Humber Arboretum and Centre for Urban Ecology, the Peel District School Board, the Royal Botanical Gardens, Toronto Zoo, the York Region District School Board, and the Education Alliance for a Sustainable Ontario.
“The EcoCentres program is the first of its kind in Ontario specifically developed for environmental / outdoor day centres, residential field centres, museums, zoos or other centres that provide on-site education programs,” said Darryl Gray, Senior Manager, Education, for TRCA. “Education centres have a significant opportunity to influence students and enable them to understand issues such as climate change. Through this program we are helping centres become leaders in sustainability by encouraging people working and learning at the centre to act in an environmentally responsible way.”
Developing the tools needed to teach environmental values is the key to fostering a new generation of environmental stewards.
Under the supervision of TRCA, and with funding from The W. Garfield Weston Foundation and the TD Friends of the Environment Fund, volunteers with the Monarch Teacher Network of Canada promote and deliver the two-day “Teaching and Learning with Monarch Butterflies” workshop to educators across Canada each summer.
The workshops are built around the story of the Monarch Butterfly and provide a rich environment for teaching across the curriculum, including lessons focussed on literacy, science, math and social studies.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. When the village is as big as North America, perhaps it takes a butterfly – a monarch butterfly – to bring the village together.
Brian Hayes, Assistant Director, Educational Information and Research Center
Participants learn to raise and tag monarch butterflies in the field, they learn about butterfly ecology and conservation efforts, and they are shown the monarch’s significance in Mexican culture.
“The monarch butterfly is a powerful symbol of the cycle of life and the role we all have to play in taking care of the land that sustains us and the peoples that surround and support us,” says Brian Hayes, assistant director of the Educational Information and Research Center, (EIRC). “EIRC is proud to be a part of this North American network of teachers.”
In 2012, seven workshops attracted 280 educators in Ontario and Manitoba, including the first French language workshop within North America.
The Weston Family Environmental Leaders of Tomorrow Program is developing the next generation of ‘Eco Leaders.’
More students across Ontario are getting an outdoor experience unlike any other. In 2012, TRCA together with The Living City Foundation announced the province-wide expansion of The Weston Family Environmental Leaders of Tomorrow Program, thanks to the generous funding support of The W. Garfield Weston Foundation.
Over the next three years, more than 10,000 students from across Ontario, including the GTA will be provided the field trip of a lifetime, immersing them in a natural setting at one of Ontario’s eight premier outdoor education centres and inspiring them to become the next generation of environmental leaders.
The program focuses on students in urban areas that are increasingly cut off from our natural heritage and schools that are defined as at-risk or a priority based on established criteria. Already a success in the GTA, the program has expanded to 12 additional urban centres across Ontario. In 2012, 82 schools took part, with 2,610 students participating in the program.
Based on the three core principles of ecological literacy, environmental leadership and community action , the program integrates in-school classroom learning with in- the-field experience.
“With an acute shortage of public funding for outdoor education field trips, The W. Garfield Weston Foundation has made an unparalleled contribution to the environmental education of students and communities across Ontario,” said Darryl Gray, Senior Manager, Education for TRCA. “This is the first time that we have brought all of these amazing partners together to deliver a program with a shared vision of improving student learning opportunities, including providing access to some of the most amazing natural spaces in the province.”
I think environmental education can start as early as Grades 1 and 2. Start them with simple concepts and built upon it every year, so that to the student, this is a normal part of life.
Taslim Mohamed, Toronto Public School teacher
The unique approach to the program is what drew Taslim Mohamed, a teacher at Warren Park Public School in Toronto. Taslim attended Albion Hills and Lake St. George Field School herself when she was a student, and was excited to bring her students to the program. It was important for her to have the students participate in science based programming and activities.
“Some other environmental education program focus more on a social studies aspect” said Taslim Mohamad Grade six teacher, Warren Park Public School. “What I really liked about this program is its focus on environmental science. Being active while learning at the same time is key for student understanding. The students were kept so incredibly active, and it’s interesting to watch students discover things for themselves, like how to shrink our (ecological) footprint, it was fantastic!”
The students from her class not only gained a greater appreciation of the outdoors, but a sense of responsibility to take what they learned and share it with others including their parents, who have said that upon completing the program, their child was inquiring about the energy efficiency of their appliances and questioning why they needed to drive when they can just walk or bike.
“This program is amazing, and, due to the generous support of The W. Garfield Weston Foundation, costs so little for what each student receives,” said Taslim. “I know that in some cases some programs are just too out of reach financially for some parents, but this program is extremely beneficial as it gives access to nature that students in Toronto might not necessarily have.”