Leaside High School was awarded platinum certification on its Ecoschools audit this past May. Ecoschools is an Ontario program whose mandate is to certify schools that attain certain benchmarks in institutionalizing the concepts of sustainability and stewardship among their students.
After achieving gold status for two years in a row, the Eco Team and Vanessa Mo, a Grade 9 science teacher and their staff advisor, set their sights on achieving platinum status this year through adding some new initiatives to their regular annual activities.
To qualify, the team had to complete an application with 60 questions, and then accompany an auditor from Ecoschools around the school while she rated them on different aspects of their program.
Regular activities of the Eco Team include a “Battery Bake Sale,” where used batteries are turned in for baked goods, and an energy conservation campaign with the team touring the school at lunchtime and leaving notices for teachers who have forgotten to turn off lights and computers not in use.
In addition, this year each student was allotted 50 sheets of printer paper for use in school, but had to pay extra if they needed more. The school also committed to using only recycled paper. In keeping with the recycling theme, the team planted 250 trees, bushes and plants with the Leaside Rotary Club in Moccasin Trail Park in May.
Another popular feature involves special lunches such as the Harvest and Winter Cafés where the team served locally grown meals made from seasonal vegetables, and offered a discount to those who brought their own reusable dishes.
But, most notably, this year saw a new focus on promoting a cycling culture within the school. The team launched this initiative after attending a biking advocacy workshop which focused on the importance of biking to school and the issue of cycling safety. This led to a “Cycle to School Week” at the end of May during which they organized group rides – a program they hope to repeat in September.
A consultant from Green Communities Canada, Laura Zeglen, contacted Leaside as one of the schools on Eglinton Ave. affected by the building of the LRT and discussed with the school the establishment of a School Travel Plan to promote active transportation to school, including cycling.
Green Communities, Metrolinx and the EcoTeam conducted a tour of the neighbourhood to check on the effects of the construction and increased traffic at major intersections in the area. Toronto Public Health also participated and helped to develop a plan to promote active transportation. As part of the School Travel Plan, the TDSB is now looking at adding a bike lane in the parking lot and additional bike racks to encourage cycling.
The Eco Team recently submitted a petition to Councillor Burnside requesting a traffic sign at the corner of Overlea and Millwood, reminding motorists to allow cyclists space and time to merge into traffic there after a Grade 9 student was hit on his way to school. They would also like to see a bike lane on Laird and Millwood to facilitate biking to school, especially for those coming from East York.
Team member Anna Postill, who is heading into Grade 12, summed up her involvement with the Eco Team by saying she enjoys “making a difference and advocating for what you believe in, even though it is not a popular thing to do.”
Doris Du, entering Grade 11, echoed this sentiment when she said she joined the club on a whim, but stayed when she “learned more about it and became passionate about the team’s work.” ?