Earth Hour celebrated in Toronto area schools

  • April 6, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - Catholic schools in the Toronto area joined millions of people worldwide in turning off their lights for Earth Hour March 27, but for many, the practice is a daily routine.

In the York Catholic District School Board, 18 elementary schools have been monitoring their energy consumption by classroom, with students rushing to turn off lights, computers and other appliances when a special warning LED “Save Energy” sign warns them of over-usage. The initiative is part of the board’s Eco Champion program launched last year.

“So far these schools have saved 10 per cent of their total consumption on a yearly basis,” said Norman Vezina, the board’s senior manager of environmental services. “It’s amazing the impact they’ve had — you walk into (one of those) schools and you can’t leave a light on because students are chastising you.”
The board is hoping to introduce something similar to the high schools. Vezina envisions putting a monitor in the entrance of each school which would report the school’s consumption numbers, while alternately providing other news flashes about school activities and upcoming events.

To encourage awareness in the high schools, the board launched a contest where staff had to write how they would integrate solar energy into the curriculum.

The winning school, St. Jean de Brebeuf Catholic High School in Woodbridge, won a solar panel in the shape of a cross, installed onto the wall of the school’s front entrance and put into working order in March.

The solar panel is connected to the school’s grid and contributes enough energy to power a microwave. However little that may be, the system has provided a great teaching resource, says the school’s principal, Rom Villani.

“We are looking at it as a first step of creating a total package of energy awareness in the school,” Villani said. “Just the recognition we’ve gotten has already got students talking. But it is also hands-on. They have raw data to help them realize the impact solar energy can have.”

Villani explained that students can measure how much energy is being produced on cloudy days versus sunny days and teachers can use the data in math questions, scientific projects and discussions about technology. Having the students measure the data themselves versus reading about it in a textbook makes the technology, the science and the calculations that much easier to understand.

Just as Pope Benedict began harnessing solar power for the Vatican, the school is doing a small part to reduce energy consumption out of respect for God’s creation.

Villani said students understand quite well that helping the environment ties to their faith.

“They recognize that this is not to be squandered,” Villani said.

While the daily awareness campaign has taken leaps and bounds in York Region, other schools in the GTA are also showing initiative in making Earth Hour a daily or weekly event.

Roberta Oswald, Science and Environment Resource for the Toronto Catholic District School Board, said St. Roch’s Catholic School pledged last year to have an hour a day without lights and appliances for the entire year. The challenge was extended to other schools, with Transfiguration Catholic School climbing on board. And Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic School has been holding an Earth Hour every week.

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