A group of Bonnyville students had the unique opportunity to help influence change on a provincial level.
Notre Dame High School (NDHS) was one of seven schools in Alberta chosen to co-author a white paper on climate change. Last week, Gabby Cowan, a Grade 11 student and leader in the environmental sciences group, travelled down to Edmonton to present the students' ideas to Shannon Phillips, minister responsible for climate change, and Education Minister David Eggen.
“At first it was kind of scary. Once I met them it was really cool, they were happy and optimistic,” recalled Cowan. “So many people had different ideas. There were only two (groups from) rural areas and the rest of the groups were from cities, so it was neat to see the different perspectives based on location.”
Students started on the white paper earlier this year, participating in a town hall session to bounce ideas back and forth with the other schools. Working collaboratively, they developed recommendations in four key areas: curriculum, student learning, infrastructure, and professional development for teachers.
Having written the white paper, each school sent student representatives to summarize the recommendations and present them to the ministers.
“For us, curriculum was a big idea for us because we are now getting an environmental sciences course in our school next year. We were really pushing for it to be Alberta-wide,” said Cowan.
Under the student learning category, Cowan noted that their recommendations included students having more classes outside and additional extra-curricular activities that focused on environmental learning. For infrastructure projects, solar panels and the creation of school gardens to promote environmentally friendly eating were two ideas in the paper.
“It is inspiring to see so many talented young people engaged in finding solutions to the climate-change crisis. It remind politicians like us that we must all take action to combat climate change to ensure a better future for today's youth,” said Phillips.
NDHS is already well on their way to implementing recommendations in the white paper, starting with curriculum.
Earlier on in the school year, teachers from the local high school completed a weeklong course from which they developed an environmental studies class that is being added into the NDHS timetable for next year.
“Right now we're in the process of getting that course approved, but it's the first of its kind. That's how strongly we feel about educating our students in environmental issues and how committed we are to this priority,” said principal Pam Guilbault.
She added, “Our geographic location demands they be well informed about the environment. Here is where industry intersects with the environment. They have to be well informed and understanding about the role they play in making wise decisions for the future.”
Recommendations from the white paper, which is titled ‘Supporting Climate Leadership in Alberta Schools: Recommendations by Students for Alberta's Educational Leaders', will be taken into consideration as the government looks at ways to integrate education into the provincial climate leadership plan.
Guilbault expressed she's certain the ministers will seriously consider the suggestions laid out in the white paper.
“They thought it was wonderfully done and well presented. Minister Phillips had nothing but positive feedback for them. I'm confident that when they see the students so passionate and so inspired to put their words into action, they won't help but be activated themselves and take those recommendations to heart.”