Students take the lead in Roots & Shoots projects

Written By: Tatiana Hayek, JGI Canada Volunteer
Category: Youth Power

Walking through a garden blooming with wildflowers on the grounds of Burrows Hall Junior Public School in Toronto, a frustrated student starts to feel a sense of calm.  With her teacher by her side, she talks about the surrounding plants, and begins to open up about her feelings. The young student’s sense of peace is shared. Students and teachers alike wander through the garden to smell the fresh soil and enjoy the buzzing of bees. That’s the power of nature, now readily accessible to the young people attending Burrows Hall thanks to their successful funding application to JGI Canada’s A.P.E. Fund. Every year, thousands of young Canadians undertake projects to improve their communities, taking into account the needs of people, animals and the environment. Projects receive up to $1,000 through the Roots & Shoots A.P.E. Fund, which offers grants through two funding streams: Sustainable Food and Indigenous Perspectives. In 2018, more than $16,000 was awarded to 21 projects across six provinces to pursue sustainable food initiatives. Nearly 3,000 youth from Kindergarten to Grade 8 spent more than 800 hours volunteering, planting 1,600 trees and cultivating native plant species. Back at Burrows Hall, the garden was only one part of a bigger sustainable food project. Students in Grades 2 to 6 learned about hunger and poverty as well as sustainable farming practices. They turned what they learned into real-world experience by making pollinator friendly gardens to attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Their efforts raised awareness about the importance of creating sustainable community growing spaces and the need for a national food program, reaching some 400 people through their activities and shared garden. Half way across the country, in Winnipeg, students in Grades 7 to 9 at General Wolfe School initiated a school-wide composting program to reduce food waste and increase understanding of sustainable food consumption. More than 400 students participated in activities that included an assembly about food waste and composting; placing organic waste bins around the school; and building compost bins from recycled pallets. Students were shocked to learn how much waste was produced at their school, and the benefits composting would have. Moreover, students set up a schedule to manage composting responsibilities and keep the project running smoothly. The A.P.E. Fund’s second funding stream, Indigenous Perspectives, supports projects focused on broadening youth’s understanding of Indigenous traditions and their importance in living sustainably. At Meadows West School in Winnipeg, students in Grades 5 to 8, including Indigenous youth, visited an Insurgence Resurgence Art exhibit and learned about local prairie plants at Oak Hammock Marsh Wildlife Management Area. Students even joined the Bear to Witness March in support of Jordan’s Principle, a government declaration to ensure that all First Nations children have access to critically important services and support systems. These varied activities provided exposure to elements of First Nations identity and culture that extended far beyond the classroom, raising awareness among 800 community members. This year, more than 60 groups have applied for funding, and thousands of people have voted for their favorite projects. Projects that receive funding create experiential learning opportunities that teach young people about environmental and cultural sustainability, empower them to create change within their communities, and help to foster the next generation of Janes.