2020 PYE School Board Emergency Forum

On Monday, January 13, Peterborough high-school students organized a public workshop to ask the school boards to declare a Climate Emergency and introduce more climate-change science into the curriculum. Sixty people were in attendance at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Frank St., including students, members of the school boards, teachers, parents, and others. The meeting was organized by members of Peterborough Youth Empowerment: Hannah Grills, Nico Ossa-Williams, Emma Scarlett, Malaika Collette, Darren Ranawaka and Jacob Douglas.

The meeting started with a real-time video discussion with Estrellita Gonzalez of the Vancouver school board, whose motion led to the board’s unanimous declaration of a climate emergency last September. Gonzalez said the decision was straightforward and recognized that students are rightfully worried about their future. She said that a strong local environmental movement also helped in the decision. She just had to say to the trustees, “Listen to the students and their parents.” and to parents “Just listen to your kids.” “There were very few negative voices.”

When asked what difference it has made, Gonzalez said that the Vancouver board has until May to develop a plan, but she expects the starting focus will be on energy efficiency of buildings and possibly renewable energy. The board is already upgrading lighting to LEDS and replacing gas-fired implements with electric ones. She also recommended improving transit, making it easier to bike to school and possibly introducing a food program that would include gardens at most schools and an emphasis on eating local food. When asked how to deal with high up-front costs she emphasized setting goals clearly and starting with easy wins that save money.

The meeting then interviewed a daughter and mother, Sophia Mathur and Cathy Orlando from Sudbury. Sophia helped push the Rainbow District School Board to declare a Climate Emergency and Cathy has attended three COP climate conferences. As part of the motion last September, the Board created a climate change action plan including having 100% of Rainbow Schools certified as EcoSchools within three years, with each school committed to reducing its carbon footprint. Sophia said she is already learning more climate science in her classes.

Cathy, a previous science teacher herself, said “It is important to prepare the next generation for what is coming, especially as students have an enormous impact on their parents’ actions.” An example is the blue box program, which was rolled out in the schools, with students then carrying home a recycling habit.

When asked how they approached their board, Sophia said that they began by getting individual schools on side first. Students also held climate strikes at schools every week for two months and then took them downtown where they were more visible. There were also many letters written to the local media. Every high school now has an “ecoteam” working to make the school more sustainable.

The Peterborough students then discussed what they are looking for from the local boards: more climate education, relevant teacher training, a strategic plan to address the climate emergency, making facilities more energy efficient, and addressing the eco-anxiety mental-health issues of the students.

The students have delegations planned for Catholic Board in January and the Public Board in February.

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