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Hands-on for impact
Zahra Haq and Angela Ang won an Engagement Award in the 2017-18 Student Community Engagement Competition to implement Eco Endeavours, an after school care program focussed on the environment. Check out what they learned as they implemented their program.
About the project
Our project, Eco Endeavours, received the $2000 Engagement Award in the 2017-18 competition. Eco Endeavours (EE) is an afterschool sustainability and mentorship program focused on students in Grades 5-7. Our goal was to inspire students to think about sustainability with a broader lens – away from the traditional notion of “waste” – to allow students to develop their own sustainability-focused projects with dedicated mentorship. We ran the program at Stride Avenue Elementary School, with the help of a staff member who volunteered her time and space, and with copious amounts of help from the Community School Coordinator. We had around 10-12 kids over the two semesters, and in our first semester, we had two lovely SFU volunteers.
What made you realize that your project was having an impact on someone else?
The first time I realized that our project was having an impact on other people was when the kids would come running out as soon as the bell rang at 3:05 pm! Although this was the first sign that the students really enjoyed EE, we weren’t sure how much of their excitement was for the program or the snacks at the beginning.
I think I really saw an impact on the students when we began our first project. After a number of sessions, we were looking for a sustainability-related community project to work on, and someone suggested a candy-wrapper recycling contest. At the time, Encorp Canada accepted soft plastics for recycling, which included candy and chip wrappers. As Halloween was right around the corner, the EE cohort decided to run a candy wrapper competition between different classes, to see who could collect the most amount of candy wrappers to be recycled!
Seeing the way the EE student were so engaged and invested in the project and how they shared their stories of collection really demonstrated that our project was having an impact on them (and by association, their whole school community!) The students managed to collect over 3,000 candy wrappers between all the classes that participated!
When you realized that, describe what changed for you? (if anything).
Originally, our project was very focused on the “other” part of sustainability – we wanted to focus on sustainability outside the traditional concept of waste reduction. As a part of that, we designed very curriculum-focused lessons. What changed this view was two things: the passion and genuine enthusiasm students showed when working on their own project, and a quote from our sponsor teacher. She remarked that the EE kids spent all day in structured settings, and that an additional hour of “instruction” is not what the kids were looking for in an afterschool program.
What changed for us was not only the session structure, but what we felt the outcomes of EE were to be. We moved from a traditional, lesson-plan model for our sessions to sessions that were more relaxed and had hands-on learning opportunities. An example of this is our newest EE project: a small school garden, where the kids will have the ability to plant and maintain herbs (that will be used for a year end homemade pizza party!).
If you had the chance, what would you do differently?
Looking back, I would focus less on the “curriculum” mode of instruction and use more of the guided, hands-on programming we shifted to, such as our soon to be garden, sessions where we create reusable beeswax wraps, and nature walks around the school, itself. I think those kinds of activities have been the most impactful on the students, and I wished we had started off doing more of those.