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Eco-Schools Celebration connects faith, learning and nature

On October 1st, students and teachers from school eco-teams were invited to the Royal Botanical Gardens to celebrate their special achievement – all schools in the Board had received certification from Ontario Eco-Schools. To commemorate all their hard work, the Royal Botanical Gardens invited students to gather and gave them the opportunity to tour through the gardens on a self-guided hike and explore the unique ecology of the Bruce Trail.

Throughout the hike, messages and conversations about the reciprocal nature between humans and the environment showed a spiritual and faith-based understanding from students. As the group hiked, students stopped to read about medicinal herbs, marsh lands and even had a chance to listen to a chorus of frogs. All along they were encouraged to interact with the environment, listen and appreciate the beauty of being outside. (Photo 1)

Eco-team reps from St. Thomas More were accompanied by their teacher Liz Pereira who explained that the group has done a lot of work in reducing waste at the school. “They have also been effective in recycling, collecting batteries, conserving energy and planting,” she said. St. Therese of Lisieux Grade 5 students, Angelo, Massimo and Armanda said a lot of their work was in educating their peers. When their teacher Judy Iantomasi asked why they were passionate about helping with the eco-team at school, Angelo explained that it is “so we can have a clean earth when we grow up.” (Photo 2)

Midway through teachers and students stopped to let the chickadees eat from the palm of their hands. Celeste from STM stopped on a bridge to explain to classmates that the grass was flat likely because deer like to lay on long grass. When another student asked her why, she smiled and said, “It’s more comfortable. Wouldn’t you rather lay on long soft grass than dirt?” (Photo 3)

Conversation continued about our similarities with nature. One student commented that taking care of the environment speaks to our character. They talked about this reciprocal relationship, coming to the conclusion that “when we give back to the environment it also gives back to us." Pereira and David Pickard from Corpus Christi stopped with students to talk about health, wellness and the environment after students mentioned what their motivations for environmental stewardship were. The group talked about the relationship between a diseased outer world and its effect internally. Conversation flowed to how fortunate we are to live in Canada and how many people in the world experience harsh living conditions such as contaminated water or lack of space. Pereira said that one of the priorities of their group is continuously linking back the reasons why we do things and highlighting the connections between the environment and one’s well-being. (Photo 4)

When asked about their favourite parts of the hike, students commented, “Feeding the birds because I’ve never done that before,” and that the hike was fun because “You get to see all different things that you didn’t get to see, like, I never knew grass could grow this tall!” Students from St. Eugene shared some pictures of tiny frogs they had held and were able to feed the chickadees and chipmunks along the pathway. (Photo 5)

Paul Beaudette, Religion and Family Life Program Leader welcomed the group to this big, beautiful green space in the urban area of Hamilton/Burlington. Beaudette congratulated the students on their efforts and achievements in achieving certification from Ontario Eco-Schools. Special recognition was given to St. Anthony Daniel Catholic School, one of only two schools in Ontario to be certified for the last 10 years. The board also recognized St. Matthew Catholic School for being a LEED-certified building and a special thank-you was also given to the custodial and administrative staff who work to make a difference day-to-day in their schools with their eco-actions. Director of Education Patricia Amos spoke to the group, “We’ve been called to be the change we want to see in the world."

"Called” she emphasized, “... It’s a vocation.” She said that caring for the world was similar to a tree or a vine, in that our actions were rooted in faith and grew from there.

She reminded the group to leave the world a little bit better than how they found it. “These seemingly small efforts make a big difference in our schools, our communities and our world,” she concluded. (Photo 6)

The Royal Botanical Gardens is a “Living Laboratory” that provides educational opportunities for students in the understanding that “humans learn best by doing, and that they retain information through having fun” as Sabrina Hall, Manager of Customer Relations stated in a presentation to students. Hall talked about the importance of an experiential education and explained the RBG’s Green Angels Program as an initiative that was “hands on” and “minds on” in order to help learners develop compassion and meaningful connections with their environments as well as practice environmental stewardship.

“Every child should have the opportunity to fall in love with nature,” she expressed.

Over the afternoon, students had the opportunity to look around at some of the unique initiatives others had done and share in their passion. The eco-team from Immaculate Conception created “The Golden Lunchbox” – a program where the coveted golden lunchbox was awarded to the class who had 100% litterless lunches each week. (Photo 7)

Messages during the celebration emphasized the Earth as evidence of God’s eternal presence and the divine voice that sings throughout creation - ideas that reflected the religious tone of the afternoon and were an effective bridge to the culminating activity where students were asked to choose a few words that expressed how being on the eco-team made them feel. “Inspired and challenged” said Celeste; “It’s important work but it is hard to get people motivated.” Other students said that what they loved about nature was that it was so simple, but if you looked into it deeply it was so fascinating. “It’s like God” said Maisha from St. Thomas More. “God is a simple idea, we make it complex.”

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