By now, most Leasiders recognize the colourful crop of orange flags gracing a number of our intersections. They are the work of the Crosswalk Company of Quinlan Birmingham, Arnav Shah and Oliver Wong. These three Grade 6 students at Northlea Elementary and Middle School wanted to find a way to make intersections near their school safer for pedestrians, given the increased traffic on our streets and in the wake of the death of Georgia Walsh in 2014.
Sadly, the boys have encountered some challenges during the past months with the theft of several flags and the difficulty of maintaining the flag canisters, flags and signs. When Oliver’s father, Joseph Wong, who works at the University of Toronto, introduced the Crosswalk Company to his colleagues at the I-Think Initiative at the Rotman School of Management, directors Josie Fung and Nogah Kornberg spoke to the boys and decided their situation would make an excellent challenge to pose to schools for their 2018 Celebration of Thinking.
The I-Think Initiative is a group whose members place a high priority on teaching students problem-solving skills through a practice called Integrative Thinking, which seeks to combine the best elements of several approaches to a problem.
This spring, 17 elementary and middle school classes from Hamilton, Peel Toronto and York Region, worked on the two issues facing the Northlea boys. Each school received an explanatory video, some integrative thinking materials and the supplies necessary to set up their own crosswalk donated by Ashoka Canada, a global charity dedicated to finding solutions to real-life problems.
On May 17 at the Celebration of Thinking, when the classes presented their solutions in a science-fair format, Oliver and Arnav felt “excited and honoured” to be there and have “the support of other classes spreading knowledge of their initiative and making a change in Southern Ontario.” The solutions presented ranged from colour-coding crosswalks and enlisting school clubs to using a rotating schedule for maintenance.
The Grade 5/6 Northlea class focused on two possible candidates for maintenance of the crosswalks: the school and the community. They suggested that students first educate the school and community about the importance of the flags. Their teacher, Kalina Butts, explained, “Different classes would be responsible for maintaining the flags around the school, and community members living near other flag locations would be responsible for those flags.”
Northlea Principal Barbara Sandler praised the event as “a reflection of the work done throughout the year in terms of encouraging students to engage in integrative thinking and a chance to see themselves as agents of change.”
Quinlan spoke for all the boys when he said they “felt proud that a lot of kids got to hear our ideas and give us some solutions.” They are now sorting through the suggestions and will integrate the most useful ones.
Everyone involved is looking forward to seeing the Crosswalk Company flourish throughout the GTA, thanks to the work of three Leaside changemakers.