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Environmental Award and the Abundance of School Gardens

With the planting season well underway, school gardens have been a source of learning and a rich way for students to connect with the environment and build awareness of sustainability. What follows are some of the many examples across the District, including a project where the lead student was honoured with a City of Burnaby Environmental Award, as well as a revitalized garden project at one of the learning pathways sites for high school students.

Award-Winning Collaborative Secondary and Elementary Project

A group of Grade 12 students at Burnaby Mountain Secondary have been leading a collaborative project with elementary students for several months. As a garden club at Mountain, the students secured a $1000 grant from Youth to Sea, which helped them revitalize the school’s greenhouse and outdoor gardening bins.

Partnering with the non-profit charity Sprouting Chefs, the students have been working with nearby elementary schools, including Forest Grove, Windsor, and Edmonds Community School. The younger students have been doing the planting and the high school students have been nurturing the growth in the greenhouse over the winter. Plant and seed donations came from local businesses. The students hope to share their harvest with the community and support awareness of the environment, growing your own food, and Indigenous plants.

For her leadership on the project and other work, this month Grade 12 Student Casey Lo from Burnaby Mountain Secondary received an Environmental Award in the category of Youth from the City of Burnaby. The award statement outlines her impact on the community:

Casey’s commitment to this project demonstrates environmental stewardship and climate resiliency to her peers and the younger students… Casey has been an inspiration to her peers while showing a desire to create positive solutions for the future in permaculture, growing food and protecting the environment.”

Learn more about Casey’s work and award on the City of Burnaby website here, where you’ll also find information about more winners. This includes an Environmental Star award to a Grade 2 student who initiated a project with the support of his teacher. Smith Hemsley was recognized for raising awareness on waste reduction at Sperling Elementary with his “Feed a Zombie, Not a Landfill” campaign, collecting old pens and pencils in shoe boxes decorated by him and his classmates.

Gardening Builds Environmental Awareness and Teaches Skills

As part of an Earth Science unit, students at the Royal Oak Alternate Program revitalized their garden space. The high school students planted the garden in their outdoor learning classroom, which also features a deck they had built the previous school year as an Applied Design, Skills and Technologies project.

David Greve, the District Principal of Provincial Resource Programs and Learning Pathways, says extending the learning space out of the classroom has really enhanced the experience at school for the students:

At our alternate education settings, we work hard to find creative ways that give the students learning opportunities that both engage them and provide choice. There’s lots of learning in gardening: food doesn’t just show up at the grocery store, digging in the soil connects you to the environment, and it provides a sense of calm that the students can take back into the learning space.”

The students at Royal Oak approached the garden through a sustainability lens, using a recycled bathtub as one of the gardening beds to supplement the tubs provided by the District. They started all their plants from seed under a grow light inside and planted them in pots so everybody could see the seedlings come to life. Each student was also given a sunflower that they helped guide with a trellis they built from found sticks and rope.

Education Assistant Sally Vanin led the gardening project at the school:

It has been wonderful to watch their pride as they care for their sunflowers, so they don’t fall over, water them, and pull out weeds. They’ve done such a good job with their plants and some of the flowers will be taller even than the students. To see them care for a little seedling and show what they’ve been doing, that was really special. I chose the sunflower, specifically, as something they could take home the last week of school.”

Vanin says that for the students, being able to just be outside and take a break surrounded by greenery that they nurtured helps them to self-regulate when it’s a busy day or when there’s a lot of work going on inside. They’ve learned about photosynthesis, what makes plants thrive, growing your own food and so much more, as they have watched their wildflowers bloom and their fast-growing early harvest plants of radishes, spinach, lettuce and kale – all grown from seeds donated by West Coast Seeds.

Scroll down to see more photos of gardening projects throughout the District, with student learnings such as the connection of bees to a healthy environmental cycle and techniques for growing and cooking your own food.

Learn more about environmental awareness work happening in Burnaby Schools and read the District’s Sustainability Strategic Plan here.

Posted June 2022