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École des Beaux-Lacs students taking charge of their environmental footprint

BONNYVILLE - Students at École des Beaux-Lacs are taking charge of their school’s impact on the environment.

Grade 5 teacher Rachelle Balla has 22 environmental stewards in her midst, also known as her students.

The class applied for financial support through the Alberta government's Climate Environmental Student Action Challenge, and were awarded $1,000 for initiatives they plan on implementing right in their school.

“It’s going to help us with our recycling program. We already have one at our school, but we’re going to make it bigger and better, and we’re also doing a pilot program with Lakeland Industry and Community Association (LICA): the Stop Needless Idling Campaign,” detailed Balla.

The students had to outline what they intend to spend the grant money on, which in their case includes enhancing their school's recycling strategy.

Balla explained, “Right now we’re doing the basics with juice boxes and yoghurt containers, and our home economics class is recycling cans, containers, and glass, but what we would really like to do is have the separate bins in each of the classes.”

In addition to changing the way they recycle, the students also want to cut back on the amount of paper they use.

To get started, they will collect data by weighing the paper materials used throughout the school and consider ways they can reduce the amount used, which shouldn't be too difficult, Balla said.

"This day in age with technology, there really isn’t a need to photocopy a million things. If we can lessen our footprint by using less paper and just using what we need, I think we will see a difference."

Their efforts to improve the world around them aren’t stopping there. LICA is giving the students the knowledge and technology to take their learning outside of the classroom.

Lisa Gander, education and outreach coordinator for LICA, is bringing the Stop Needless Idling Campaign, an Alberta-wide initiative through the Alberta Airsheds Council, to the students.

“It’s to encourage parents, school bus drivers, and couriers coming to the school to not leave their vehicles idling endlessly in front of the school because it affects the air quality for the kids,” expressed Balla.

The students will use air beams to measure particulate matter in various locations throughout the École des Baux-Lacs parking lot during pick-up and drop-off. After they've gathered their initial readings, they will spend some time teaching those coming and going how idling is influencing the environment.

Once they've informed those visiting their school about the issue, the class will take another measurement at the same time and in the same locations and compare the results to see if sharing what they've learned with others made an impact. 

“They’re learning about how stopping needless idling can save fuel and money and keep the air healthy, and some facts about how particulate matter is produced,” Gander noted.

Balla was ecstatic to have LICA on-board.

“They’re on the pulse, they know what’s going on. They know how to apply for grants, they have the education, the materials, they have the resources, and they’re just a wealth of knowledge that we have in our community. It’s really great to get their help and support with this,” she stated. “You don’t really know about these things without LICA and other organizations that can guide you.”

Grade 5 students Avery Crook, Kathryn Graham, and Brady Fox, who are considered environmental leaders in their class, expressed their enthusiasm for the initiative when they sat down with the Nouvelle.

“I really like it," exclaimed Crook. “We’re going to save and help the air."

Graham agreed, noting it's also about assisting wildlife.

“I think it’s cool, and I like it because it’s helping people, animals, and every living thing out there,” Fox added.

When asked how they plan to approach drivers of idling vehicles, the trio had varying ideas including Crook's suggestion of giving it to them straight.

“Tell them about how it’s not good to idle and things about it,” she said.

Fox intends of informing them of the dangers of leaving your vehicle running, not only for the students, but also the planet.

While Crook and Fox were excited to learn about how other emissionsm not necessarily created by humans come into play, Graham is looking forward to getting a better understanding of how people can lessen their environmental footprint.

“Their enthusiasm for the material and the fact that they can help make a difference in reducing and improving the air quality at their school is the most fun part, that’s for sure,” expressed Gander.

Balla added, “In Grade 5, they’re very curious and excited to have an impact, whether it’s in our school community or Bonnyville as a whole. They really want to be leaders and I think this is a really good opportunity for them."

Thanks to the program, her class is not only gaining knowledge on their environmental influence, they're also developing "their own critical thinking skills."

“They’re discovering themselves and their strengths. We’re going to be tapping into that and make them a successful group,” continued Balla.

Meagan MacEachern, Bonnyville Nouvelle