Toronto schools embrace EcoSchools program

  • February 23, 2007
ecoschoolTORONTO - Anna Zappone stands less than four feet tall holding a beach-ball sized model of the Earth and its atmosphere. She’s no scientist, yet. But she’s figured out a thing or two about global climate change.

“If you love your friends and family treat the Earth the same way,” she admonished a room full of teachers, politicians, dignitaries and fellow students.

When high school science teacher Roberta Oswald asked the girl what she wants to do about global warming, the St. Paschal Baylon Elementary School pupil told her, “To take care of what God made many years ago.”

Zappone was front and centre in a presentation of the Toronto Catholic District School Board’s EcoSchool program at the Toronto Zoo Feb. 15.

The year-old EcoSchools program was celebrated along with a growing list of Toronto Catholic schools that have twinned with native schools in Northern Ontario and Nunavut. Ontario Lieutenant Governor James Bartleman was there to promote the twinning program which allows Toronto schools to donate used books to reserve schools and forges personal relationships between the city kids and native students via e-mail, videos and class visits to the north.

There are 31 Catholic schools in Toronto participating in the Lieutenant Governor’s twinning program so far. Bartleman used the occasion to announce he would expand the program to include about 40 native schools in the Northwest Territories.

Bartleman told the students about his own Ojibwa mother and about the effects of global warming he’s seen in northern communities. He also told students about the effects of poverty in communities such as Kashechewan where 22 children attempted suicide in January. One of them succeeded.

The ties between Toronto students and northern communities, combined with the EcoSchools program, is revolutionizing what’s happening not just in science class, but also in religion and in extracurricular activities, said Oswald, the science teacher who spearheads the EcoSchool program.

“We’re creating ecologically literate, environmentally aware schools,” she said.

Within the next year, Oswald expects Mary Ward Secondary School to be the first Toronto Catholic school to be certified as an EcoSchool in the province-wide program. St. Paschal Baylon is also working toward certification with programs aimed at behaviour change and attitude change, said Oswald.

The morning spent listening to speeches from Toronto Zoo board members and school board officials, followed by a spiritual walk through the zoo, wasn’t empty symbolism, insisted Mary Ward student Josephine Wijaya. She said she valued the face time with local politicians and leaders.

“You’re trying to convince them to care more about the environment,” said Wijaya.

Mary Ward student Damien Gariepy-Goldwarg sees the environmental situation in stark terms.

“The world is slowly dying,” he said. “Even though technology is important, the Earth is more important.”

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