Solar panels on the roof helped Queen Elizabeth School earn the title as one of Canada's greenest schools. Teacher Aaron Dublenko (left), students Karen Tran and Lisa Downie, and teacher Terry Godwaldt, all of whom have been actively involved in green projects at the school.
Edmonton’s Queen Elizabeth School is one of Canada’s greenest, according to the Canada Green Building Council, which recently bestowed the title on the high school, along with a Hamilton elementary school.
The school earned the title on the strength of numerous student-led green projects and its ongoing involvement in the United Nations’ COP climate change conferences.
"I think it’s an extremely important recognition, especially being in Alberta and being as close to the oil and gas sector as we are. I think it just shows that we’re a much more diverse community than people might assume that we are," said teacher Aaron Dublenko, who has helped students create a number of green initiatives over the years.
The school’s foray into green projects began with the creation of a recycling/environment club in about 2009, but has since expanded into the creation of several student-led projects that have permeated the learning and created a green mindset at the entire school, Dublenko said.
Some of these projects include the installation of rooftop solar electrical panels, which, on a good day, produce about 1,000 watts of electricity that is fed into the school’s overall electrical system.
Students have also installed circuit meters to measure electrical consumption and light sensors to assess the potential for natural daylighting.
Another project monitored carbon dioxide levels in the school. After noticing that the levels were rising throughout the day, students incorporated planter boxes, green walls and aquaponics systems into classrooms in an attempt to improve the air quality.
"We’ve watched it over weeks and weeks and people pay more attention with the green garden," said Grade 12 student Lisa Downie, who was involved in the project.
She was pleased that her school was recognized for its efforts.
"I feel really, really proud of the school’s achievements," she said.
Connecting through innovation
These student-led learning projects have been developed through a program called Innovate, an option course that enables students to create their own learning experiences based on their own interests. A component of Innovate is to connect to the greater community rather than confining projects to the school.
"We really believe in the creative capacities of kids. When we give them opportunities and we treat them like agents of change ... they show what they can do and then they are connected to the world outside of school while going to school," said Dublenko, who facilitates the program.
One example of Queen Elizabeth students connecting with the greater community is a recent partnership with the City of Edmonton that has students monitoring electrical use at two city facilities: Confederation Leisure Centre and George S. Hughes South Side Arena.
Tying its green initiatives to learning is what sets the school apart from most, said teacher Terry Godwaldt.
"To me this [award] is very much about the fact that it’s baked into the DNA of who we are, where we have projects that are part of science classes, that are part of our social classes," he said.
"I think it acknowledges the fact that being a green school is about more than what you do at lunch and after school. It’s about what happens in the interaction between students and teachers."
Along with Hamilton’s St. Marguerite d’Youville Catholic Elementary School, Queen Elizabeth received $2,000 for a new or ongoing sustainability project. Both schools’ entries will now compete at internationals for the title of greenest school on Earth.
School gears up for Paris summit
Students from Queen Elizabeth School have twice presented at the annual COP United Nations climate change conference. This participation helped the school recently earn a designation as a UNESCO Associated School and also helped it secure a share of the title of Canada’s greenest school from the Canada Green Building Council.
As it happens, students at Queen Elizabeth are in the midst of gearing up for the next COP conference, which takes place in Paris in December.
On Sept. 25, a group of students from the school connected via videoconference with counterparts from Lillian Osborne High School, also in Edmonton, and students from eight other countries: Taiwan, Sweden, India, the United States, the Philippines, Australia, Peru and Ghana.
The purpose of the virtual meeting was to begin collaborating on a paper that a group of the students will present at the Paris conference.
"We’ve never had this scale of mobilization of youth, of high school age, collaborating together to write a paper like this," said Terry Godwaldt, director of programming for the Centre for Global Education, which organized the videoconference from Queen Elizabeth School.
Three Queen Elizabeth students and two from Lillian Osborne will attend the conference.