A program that is inspiring students to connect to the physical environment and engage in issues of environmental and social sustainability is having a big impact at Tommy Douglas Collegiate and receiving recognition for its leadership in the wider community.
Off the Grid is a half-day, full-year learning experience for Grade 9 students that introduces them to issues such as climate change, sustainable living, and social justice. Students experience school in a hands-on manner and gain insight into the complex systems that govern life.
The work of the program's students and its lead teacher, Mike Prebble, has received significant recognition, including the Rob Dumont Education Award for Energy Conservation presented last fall. The award, sponsored by the Saskatchewan Energy Management Task Force, is presented to an educational campaign or a student project designed to increase knowledge and action on energy management. The program received $500 to develop environmentally sustainable initiatives.
The program is also an educational research project funded by the McDowell Foundation to examine how student-led research can effect positive change to environmental sustainability practices through empowering youth within a high school context.
Prebble, along with Tommy Douglas colleague Jocelyn Dupuis and College of Education professor Dianne Miller, were the recipients of McDowell Foundation Research Award and also presented at foundation's recent Learning From Practice conference on their topic: Leaders of Change — Climate Justice Education and Connecting Students to the Systems of Power.
Launched in the fall of 2017, Off The Grid aims to build greater overall environmental awareness within the school as students move through their high school career and illustrate ways in which students can pursue their interest after graduation.
"We have been thinking of different ways to teach the students in an experiential learning environment and trying to get them out of the class as much as possible," says Prebble. "Within the school, each student group launches a campaign. It has taken them off in a lot of different paths. It is a case-based class so I give them one issue, they ask a bunch of questions about it, and then they run with it. It is a very inquiry-based kind of method and we tie it into the curriculum."
The program was launched in September 2017 and provides students with an opportunity to spend each afternoon together as part of an integrated approach to meeting curricular goals in social studies, science, English language arts, and arts education. Students are exposed to experts in the fields of environment and sustainability, and have the opportunity to work alongside like-minded peers who are passionate about positively influencing the school and Saskatoon community.
Its first year of operation saw students take charge of designing and launching campaigns to lower the school's ecological footprint and change the behaviour of the student and teacher body to reflect a more environmentally positive community.
The highlight of their efforts was the installation of a 3.96 kW solar photovoltaic system, the first of its kind for Saskatoon Public Schools. The 12 solar panels produce enough electricity annually to offset one household's power consumption needs, and the program is fundraising to install an additional six panels. Students also created a school/community garden, a composting campaign to reduce food waste, and an energy reduction campaign with updated hallway monitors displaying energy and water consumption.
The McDowell Foundation, through its teacher research initiatives attached to the course, and the Saskatoon Public Schools Foundation, which provided assistance in the purchase of solar panels, have played important roles in supporting Off the Grid and creating a more sustainable program.
Learn more about Off The Grid at www.saskatoonpublicschools.ca/offthegrid