Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Winston Churchill Secondary School and Us

“What can a kid do in an hour that will have a positive impact on their neighbourhood?” asks Joachim Vallentin, tech teacher at Sir. Winston Churchill Secondary School. “That’s the kind of partnership we are looking for, where kids can walk through their hood and say, ‘I did that.’”

In Joachim’s opinion, the regular kid is more interested in pop culture and most youth are not engaged in the conversations around environment and climate change—it’s just not marketed towards this age group. “The question is how do you get 14-18 year olds interested? It’s their world today, not in the future,” Joachim says.

Joachim believes that it is his responsibility to take the learning out of the classroom and into the community, “so that the kids have hands-on opportunities to positively impact the environment.” That’s why he is excited to be partnering with the Pollinator Paradise Project (PPP). With the support of a very dynamic, forward thinking principal at the helm (Wanda Bielak), Joachim approached Jen Baker with the PPP about the possibility of his grade 10/11 students building bee boxes for the community.

Since the school doesn’t have funds, the idea was for the students to improve the design of the bee box that the PPP is currently using. It’s a simple action at the local level that has definite impact.

 “Our students are looking for projects that are meaningful. So we are looking for opportunities for personal skill development,” Joachim says. The kinds of skills they are looking to develop include marketable and entrepreneurial skills, leading to post secondary pathways to environment, construction, landscape, botany biology and so on.  

The PPP bought the wood for 80 bee box kits, plus some of themselves. The students then figured out detailed measurements, cut and processed the kits (un-assembled and labelled, much like you see with IKEA products), treating the assignment like they would a contract from a real life client.

Great partnership

“It’s a great partnership and it’s just beginning,” Joachim enthuses (and so do we at PPP). “The PPP can supply the school with the challenge of promoting native species in our city and neighbourhood.”

Looking ahead to the spring, the school has two plots (owned by the school board) beside their parking lot and they will be planting natural gardens on these sites. There is mention of the students making seed balls for sale. Since they have a large number of Aboriginal students at the school, they plan to encourage a first nation’s garden as well.

As well, the school is looking to do more projects with community partners through the tech program. Fortunately for Winston Churchill school, they are located in a prime location, right in the middle of it all; a buzz of activity is going on in the McQuesten neighbourhood hub, including the McQuesten Urban Farm—which is still in planning stages. Joachim reports that there is very active engagement across sectors. For example an architectural company is looking at the idea of planting a foraging garden to engage the local aboriginal population in salve-making.

The McQuestenYouth Opportunities Creators is a group that is focusing on jobs for youth and as the local high school in McQuesten,Winston Churchill is working with them to encourage their youth to participate in the urban farm, landscaping, agri-business, construction, and so on.

Since this neighbourhood is one in which generations of kids grow up and stay, having their own families, Joachim is envisioning the times when his students will be able to walk down the street, see the projects they helped develop and say, “I had a small impact.”