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Peterborough Examiner

It takes a leader to create more leaders … and that’s exactly what Cam Douglas, program co-ordinator for the Youth Leadership in Sustainability program (YLS), is doing with his YLS students at Peterborough Alternative Continuing Education (PACE).

Cam is the quintessential example of an inspirational leader who can affect change. He has a master’s degree in environmental planning, a systems design engineering degree, specializes in environmental modelling and is very concerned about climate change.

He received a provincial award in 2018 for creating the YLS program and is on track in 2024 to create many more exceptional leaders with viable solutions to the climate crisis.

YLS is an innovative, experiential Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board educational program, in partnership with Trent University and the Kawartha World Issues Centre. It’s open to all Grade 11 and 12 students in the Peterborough region interested in leadership roles in sustainability.

The YLS classroom is on the Trent University campus and at PACE @ PCVS, but the program also takes students into forests, wetlands and the community. Graduates of the program obtain four Grade 11 and 12 course credits throughout the fall semester and a first-year Trent University Environmental Science (ERSC 1010) credit is awarded to graduates with an 80 per cent average and above.

Courses include world issues, environmental science, sustainability leadership (social justice, advocacy, communication, networking media skills and clean, green innovation), and an English course that focuses entirely on First Nations, Métis and Inuit authors, histories and current issues.

Field learning includes working with local leaders on climate action issues, biodiversity, energy, food, water, waste management, transportation, and urban planning.

“This is different than outdoor education. The primary focus all semester is the ecological crises. As part of this, we dug in deep to follow day-to-day developments of COP 28.” says Douglas.

Leadership skills are developed from media interaction, group facilitation, advocacy, and communication. The YLS class has just completed a project to connect to the City of Peterborough’s Climate Change Action Plan. They’ve created a series of videos that will be shared with city staff and council and all members of the Peterborough community.

The 11, two-minute IMAGINE video vignettes describe the fabulous city of 2044 that students live in — 20 years after ambitious climate action originating from their 2024 Climate Change Action Plan.

This “visioning” approach is referred to as “civic imagination” — intended to reach out to people who are not moved by fear, anger, facts or numbers, but are attracted to the benefits of a climate-centred city (i.e. cooling tree canopies, wise transportation choices, reduced heating costs, better air quality).

They describe an attractive, livable, healthy city that has fully embraced climate action/justice — including sustainable buildings, cycling, transit, food, biodiversity, and public engagement. This type of informed, hopeful thinking is also crucial for the mental health of young people.

Each student has also produced an image of themselves, set in the context of their theme, in 2044 — with a quote of their climate vision for the city. The idea is that their visions may collectively influence the updating of Peterborough’s Climate Change Action Plan.

The larger purpose of the video/ photo project is to help create political space for our municipal leaders to take bold, creative action to plan and implement emission-reduction projects that are in line with science and global expectations of GHG reduction targets for a climate-liveable planet.

Students showcased their visions on Jan. 25 at Trent University in a second-year environmental studies class. Their videos titled “IMAGINE. The City We Want” are available to watch online as part of the Reframe Virtual Film festival until Feb. 4.

The students’ IMAGINE project portrays “a positive message of what is possible with ambitious climate action that invites us to find and follow pathways that lead us to this desirable future,” says Douglas.

The YLS program also teaches valuable communication modalities that help students become leaders in all aspects of life. It’s a solutions-based program that creates transferable skills applicable to any career path students decide to choose and could potentially influence decision-making policies through a climate lens.

The cost of the program (busing to field locations, overnight camps, workshops) is approximately $650. Financial assistance is available as needed. The program is currently recruiting students in Grades 10 and 11 for its fall 2024 semester.

Applications can be submitted through the YLS program website. (Check out YLS program activities on their Instagram page @ylspeterborough.)

Many of today’s youth have lost their connection with nature and may need to disconnect from their devices to reconnect with it.

I’d like to IMAGINE that someday, core elements of the YLS program will be incorporated into the public school curriculum as a mandatory course at all grade levels.

Tricia Clarkson is a local climate change columnist and co-chair of Peterborough Alliance for Climate Action.

This article first appeared in the Peterborough Examiner. It is reproduced here with permission of the author.