For parents, grandparents and kids, schools are an integral part of the climate change conversation. Not only do they provide a forum for education about the potential impacts of a large-scale ecological shift for children and young adults, they also present an opportunity for a new model of emission reducing social change as school boards begin to formally recognize the climate change emergency and take ground breaking steps within their operational systems.
Several of our teams have had success with their school boards to make real change on the ground for our kids. On July 21, 2021, our teams met to discuss what’s working and what’s needed in schools across the country.
For Our Kids Cowichan
The relatively small Cowichan Valley school district on Vancouver Island is making big steps in their transportation systems. In February 2020, at the urging of For Our Kids Cowichan and the youth led Cowichan Valley Earth Guardians, school trustees declared a climate change emergency within their district. A climate action committee was struck and the board became one of fifteen school boards across British Columbia to receive funding for the purchase of an electric school bus. Despite the intense challenges of COVID-19 on school’s systems, the district persevered and purchased its first electric school bus in early 2021. The bus will be on the road in the school year of 2021/2022. More importantly, the district dedicated a portion of its own transportation budget to the purchase of two additional electric buses which will join it on school routes in the upcoming year.
The school has also been partnering with For Our Kids Cowichan to find ways to use the bus for educational as well as transportation purpose within the school community and the general population in the region.
The work being done by the school board are a positive sign for mother and FOK team leader Ellen Robson whose children will soon be attending classes within the district though she knows we still have a long way to go.
“It gives me hope to see tangible action being taken like this and I only wish the province could make a commitment to exclusively purchase electric buses as part of the necessary response to the climate crisis,” she said.
For Our Kids Toronto
Canada’s biggest city is home to some big action on climate change work within school settings. In partnership with Transform TO, an enormous initiative to bring people together in conversation and action around climate change in every facet of city life and infrastructure, the team has been focusing on the role of schools within the Toronto District School Board (TDSB).
School communities are a huge part of the process of creating awareness about climate change, emissions reduction and environmental action. The team has been working alongside a consultant and a network of like-minded people to create the Climate Action Guide for students in grades seven to 12. The guide will contain climate goals and initiatives for all ages and help will create pilots for community climate action in neighborhoods throughout the city.
Anne Keary of For Our Kids Toronto credits the foundation for this huge and potentially transformative work in Toronto began over twenty years ago because a group of dedicated parents established an Environmental Sustainability Community Advisory Committee which bridged the gap between the school community and its administrators and put environmental goals front and center for the school board.
“I highly encourage you to consider starting something like this at your own school,” she said. “It’s a very good way for parents to make their voices heard.”
Engagement in the Climate Action Guide will begin in the TDSB with a toolkit to reach out to parent groups and school councils.
Parents for Climate Victoria
The Greater Victoria School District was the first school district in Canada to declare a climate emergency in June 2019 thanks to the hard work of parents, students, teachers and administrators within the school system. Two years later, in June 2021, the school district passed a climate action plan.
Parents for Climate Victoria are eagerly waiting for all new initiatives within the school board to be aligned with both the new climate action plan and the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report and recommendations. It’s critical that major renovations and new school constructions meet targets recommended by the IPCC to ensure that deep and meaningful emissions reduction can occur within the school operating systems.
For Our Kids Guelph
Jenna Olley is a geography teacher at the secondary school level in Guelph Ontario. For years, her curriculum has included deep dives into climate change effects, mitigation and adaptation and she has seen first hand the emotions provoked by the discussions of rising sea levels and extreme weather events in her students.
“I knew it was time to do something,” she said. “I couldn’t keep teaching about the problem without becoming part of the solution.”
The formation of For Our Kids Guelph coincided with a social justice reckoning around the world. In 2021, Jenna formed the group alongside her friend and fellow teacher to ensure that parents voices were heard on climate change issues in school communities and beyond. Jenna is well aware that school boards can be a real place of action and change in a community. As a result, her team will be presenting a facts-based pitch to the board in fall 2021 about how climate change will affect the youth and adults in the City of Guelph and its surrounding region of Wellington County.
Her hope is that a formal declaration of a climate emergency will lead to the renewal of a paid sustainability position within the school district to ensure that all school operations align with the community’s goals to achieve a fifty percent reduction of emissions in by 2030 and a one hundred percent reduction of emissions by 2050. In order for this to happen, a budget must be created for all operations including Energy, Transportation, Waste Operations, Ground Greening and Water Catchment.