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Environmental Youth Symposium Helps Secondary Students Take Eco Commitment to Next Level

A small group of students writes down ideas on a large paper

Caption: Delhi District Secondary School students make a plan to implement eco action in their community

Held on April 11 at Camp Trillium Rainbow Lakes in Norfolk County, Grand Erie’s annual eco conference focused on providing secondary students with the tools, strategies, and motivation to make an impact.

“The idea was to not only inspire students, but to help them take their ideas and turn them into meaningful action,” said Katie Hashimoto, Supervisor of Energy and Environmental Conservation for Facility Services, which planned and hosted the event. “It’s hopefully providing students with the skills to plan effectively to reach their goals, and take those skills back to their schools and their community.”

The day kicked off with a warm welcome from Director of Education Brenda Blancher, who revealed that she’s an eco champion in her own household and community, having recently earned a coveted gold recycling box for consistent practices, such as sorting garbage, recyclables, and kitchen waste – a major help for municipalities as it takes a strain off landfills.

The symposium continued with a keynote presentation by Eddy Robinson, Indigenous artist, educator and activist of Anishinaabe/Muskegowuk Cree descent who brought a unique lens to concepts of environmental stewardship and responsibility.

“We have important work to do… as human beings,” Robinson said. He also touched on the topics of reconciliation and shared commitment.

The afternoon included a rotation of workshops for the approximately 150 secondary students from eight Grand Erie schools. A workshop by the Long Point Region Conservation Authority got students up and moving for an outdoor game simulating local lake ecosystems and the threat posed by invasive species. The weather cooperated long enough for a hike led by the Long Point World Biosphere Reserve, identifying features unique to the history, culture, and natural features of the region.

Activist and comedian Derek Forgie returned to Grand Erie once again, having brought his popular Eco Allies presentation to last year’s conference, which included elementary schools.

“Climate change affects everything, it’s going to get worse in our lifetimes, and it’s our fault,” he stated, galvanizing the audience before they made their way to a workshop led by Learning for a Sustainable Future (LSF), an organization dedicated to empowering both youth and educators to create more sustainable communities.

LSF prompted students working in small groups to identify environmental problems in their schools and communities that are within their power to solve, then showed them the steps necessary to plan a timeline, identify resources, promote activities, and understand the audience receiving their message.

“Litter is a big problem in our area this time of year, especially on the back roads” said Elizabeth, a Grade 11 student at Delhi District Secondary School. “We’re making a plan that includes talking to the local government as well as businesses to sponsor clean-up efforts.”

Grand Erie District School Board includes Environment as one of the key pillars of its current Multi-Year Plan, with goals of improving energy and conservation at all sites, and building a culture of care in all its schools.