School teaches environmental responsibility

In this building, plastic water bottles are banned. Across an office wall is a painting of a plastic bottle and a sign that reads, “Ditch this scene. Use a canteen!”

Beth Tomlinson hasn’t drunk from a plastic water bottle in years. She has been encouraging her students to do the same.

“What we’re trying to do is encourage students to drink tap water,” Tomlinson said. “We basically, as a school, banned bottled water and then we actually created our own design for a canteen. We had them made and now we sell them.”

When it comes to environmental sustainability; it is no joke to the students and staff at this high school. The Student School is an alternative secondary school located at Bloor West Village. The number of students enrolled is small, much like the size of the school’s ecological footprint.

“Before me, there was a teacher whose name is Anita Rusak. Her background was in urban planning. She started the first environmental studies class,” Tomlinson said. “When she left, we found that a lot of students were interested in the course and environment, so we continued it. We also applied for the Eco School certification through the board.”

The school has come a long way since then; two years ago the staff and students earned the platinum Eco School certification from TDSB. This was a challenge since achieving this reward involves many initiatives.

This includes things such as limiting the amount of power being used. Students and teachers turn the lights off when a room is empty, even in the bathrooms. The school has also created its own composting program.

Nadia Sheptycki and James Tatemichi are two students who attend The Student School. Nadia Sheptycki explained some of the school’s initiatives, including a waste audit.

“Years ago when we did this, we realized that the biggest thing in the garbage were paper towels,” she said. “Since there were no green bins in schools and you can’t recycle paper towel, we decided to have no paper towels in the kitchen and bathrooms. Now we have all these textiles that we wash and reuse.”

Ashley Wallis works as a project manager for Evergreen Brick Works. She believes it’s important to implement environmental courses in more schools.

“Environmental studies are finding their way into the curriculum starting from a young age. We are dealing with serious environmental issues right now and we need to teach students about awareness,” Wallis said.

Students who take the environmental studies course are not the only ones who get involved. All students are encouraged to participate in these practices. It can be anything from wiping down kitchen countertops with white vinegar, to throwing the core of an apple into one of the many composts bins.

Each spring, Tomlinson encourages all students to help bring the garden back to life in front of the school. James Tatemichi explained some of the ways they grow plants inside the school.

“We have all these greens growing in the kitchen. For lunch the other day, we chopped off some of them for salads,” Tatemichi said. “The school also has its own vege aquarium. There’s a fish tank in the hall where we converted it into an aquaponic setup, so that we can grow more basil and pesto.”

At The Student School, teachers develop a friendly relationship with their students, allowing them to voice their own opinions and ideas.

“The most important thing is for students to make a connection with the school,” Tomlinson said. “These students are bright people.”