How a Grade Six Class Turned Their School Green

Written By: Celeste Percy-Beauregard, JGI Canada Volunteer
Category: Youth Power

It was a brisk Fall day when Russell Miller’s grade six students began brainstorming ideas for their Roots & Shoots project, taking inspiration from a walk through the west-end Winnipeg neighbourhood that Greenway School calls home.

Russell describes his 10 and 11-year-old students as having “roots in every continent.” Kids from Syria, the Philippines, and Eritrea bring their diverse perspectives and backgrounds into his multi-cultural classroom. His class also has significant Indigenous representation, and he appreciates that his students’ individual experiences and strengths are as varied as his own.

Russell’s students returned from the walk brimming with ideas, and took turns pitching them to their classmates. Taking into consideration which option would have the most impact, the group landed on the idea of a “school wide blackout” as their Roots & Shoots project. As they researched and gathered information about similar initiatives, the students’ goals became loftier.

A blackout would just be the first step. Russell explains, “Our aim was to reduce the electricity used in the school by 90%. It was decided by the kids that there would be a day during which lights, computers and technology would not be used carelessly.”

Preparations for Greenway Solar Day quickly got underway.  The kids spread the word through social media and made recycled posters.

They took an inventory of computer and lights usage (both in the classrooms, and in other areas such as the staff room, hallways, and multipurpose room), developing a plan to make sure all but those deemed absolutely necessary would be turned off on the day of the blackout. Finally, the students chose a day in spring to maximize the hours of potential sunlight.

On Friday May 11th, the classrooms of Greenway School were powered by natural sunlight, computers were shut down, and nearly all the students completed their work outside in the sunshine and fresh air. Wide-ranging discussions focused on sustainability and alternative sources of power.

Not only did this project have an environmental impact, it also gave students the confidence-building experience of leading their own initiative. Russell says that the project “was easily the most engaging activity for them during the school year. It allowed them a lot of freedom to experiment and explore their ideas.” Russell’s students even put together a survey to solicit feedback on Solar Day from other teachers.

Solar Day has had an impact well beyond the time spent primarily outdoors. In the days that followed, rather than reflexively flicking lights on, students and teachers alike take advantage of the times of day when sunlight is all they need to illuminate their rooms.

With funding from the Roots & Shoots A.P.E. Fund, Russell’s class installed solar powered lights in their classroom, and Russell says that he’s noticed a new awareness about over-consumption that has filtered into the day-to-day activities at the school as a result of the research the youngsters did for their energy-saving initiative.

Russell’s new cohort of students is eager to participate in Roots & Shoots this year, and he is happy to support them, whether they choose to expand upon Greenway Solar Day or start a new project, saying, “The projects are environmental, promote education for sustainable development and allow students to be in control of their own learning in a way that is meaningful to them.”


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