Kootenay Lake Superintendent Jeff Jones attended a ground-breaking environmental sustainability day at Mount Sentinel Secondary in South Slocan Tuesday—an ambitious, multi-faceted community collaboration that involved local mentors, environmentalists and the school’s neighbour Mount Sentinel Farms—and he believes it’s a great example of the direction contemporary education is heading in the Kootenays.
“We’re challenging traditional paradigms by engaging students in deep inquiry into topics that really matter to them, and we’re helping them be thoughtful about how they’ll contribute and become leaders in the global community,” he told the Star, during a break from the festivities. “We’ve taken our students right out of the traditional timetable and gotten them outside their classroom walls.”
Principal Glen Campbell said one of the primary purposes of the day was to engage the community. “We’re trying to make learning relevant, and we’re connecting to the kids’ own families and friends. We’re trying to show them that learning isn’t just happening between the pages of a book.”
He said they’re asking students to consider the implications of climate change on their lives. “We’re asking them questions that relate specifically to their lives, and we’re trying to be realistic about what they can currently do. If you’re trying to change something, where do you begin? We tell them ‘Let’s break it down to baby steps’.”
Mount Sentinel principal: ‘It starts with your voice’
The morning began with a raucous gymnasium rally that included speeches from local environmentalists such as Montana Burgess, who encouraged the kids to educate themselves on environmental issues and prepare themselves to vote for the future they want. Campbell said the energy in the room was “electric”.
“Montana, being younger and close to the students’ age, I think she really connected with the kids. She got them revved up and chanting. She’s an example to them, and she’s showing the kids they can make change happen. It starts with your voice, and being visible, and saying ‘look at us, look at our message’.”
That message: “We’re concerned about climate change.”
Students then broke into groups, attending workshops and conversation cafes with topics such as water stewardship, waste management, sustainable food production and the local wolf cull. The latter was led by Toni Appleby.
“We have some caribou antlers and some caribou hide here, plus a mountain lion hide and a wolf hide. They’re here for the kids to see and feel and touch, and to bring the presence of these animals into the room.”
Appleby said the tactile experience of actually touching the pelts will teach them much more than just describing them.
“I try to focus on experiential education. It’s not about me going blah, blah, blah at the front. It’s about them having an experience they might not have otherwise.”
Community mentors, local experts
Community mentors who participated in sustainability day included Greg Osadchuk, Lauren Andres, Baden Wilton, Shauna Fidler, Joe Moreira and Mel Reasoner, as well as representatives from various community groups. When the Star caught up with Taress Alexis, the daughter of former Sinixt spokesperson Marilyn James, she was chatting with students about, among other things, indigenous stewardship of land.
“The kids really came together and had some good discussions about climate change, sustainability and how it affects them,” Alexis said.
“We’re talking about conservation, outdoor water use, ways to reuse water and how to deal with flooding. I’m really excited. I think they’re listening, I think they’re engaged in the issue and I think it’s a great opportunity.”
Down the hallway teachers Danny Leeming and Heather Shippit guided students through the process of making iMovie trailers that they’re going to broadcast on their in-school TV station.
The spots will encourage students to be conscientious about their transportation decisions.
“I hope this is the start of something cool,” Leeming said.
Good neighbours, global citizens
The day’s success was greatly aided by the cooperation of Mount Sentinel’s neighbouring farm, and its leader Isaac Dawson. It’s a relationship that has been growing closer recently, and one Campbell wants to cultivate. The school currently operates on a barter system with the farm, allowing them occasional use of their fields and facilities.
“In terms of sustainability, what a terrific opportunity for us! If we want to talk about sustainable farming and food production, they’re right next door to us. We’ve tried to be a really good neighbour to them and they’ve been reciprocating,” said Campbell.
Jones praised the burgeoning relationship.
“One of the most important aspects of this whole day was the inclusion of people throughout our community who’ve come together to support our students. This is a great example of how schools and communities can work together.”
Jones loved the performance by a Doukhobor choir, and spoke effusively about the borscht that had been prepared for the student’s lunch by Doukhobor grandmothers and parents of the students. The Grade 9 and 10 cooking class assisted.
“During her speech, Montana told the crowd she believes Mt. Sentinel is leading the way in focusing on the environment and tackling the issue of climate change. This is the first and only school in our district to hold a day like this, and it’s the kick-off to a broad year-long project.”
The school will collaborate on an action plan, and will begin to do their small part to contribute to environmental sustainability.
“I’m energized by that,” said Jones.