It’s easy being green
Toronto’s private schools are getting an eco-makeover thanks to student-led initiatives
When the students at Havergal College for girls return to classes this fall, they will find a shiny new addition to one of the buildings at their campus near Avenue and Lawrence.
Sitting on the roof of the school’s theatre will be a 35-foot by 10-foot solar panel capable of generating around five kilowatts of electricity, enough to power a good chunk of the lights in the building.
Havergal’s solar array was installed over the summer after girls in the school’s environment club floated the idea of employing more renewable power sources on campus. Undoubtedly a victory for student-led initiatives, the panels are also an example of a broader trend toward greening both campuses and curriculums that has been sweeping through Toronto’s independent schools.
In recent years, more and more institutions are formalizing energy reduction and other environmental plans and using those initiatives to bolster their teaching.
At Upper Canada College, the school management launched its Green School Project back in 2002, to increase use of green technologies at its midtown campus.
Communications manager Steve McLean says the project has encompassed everything from incorporating energy-efficient materials in new buildings to installing water fountains for students to fill reusable water bottles.
McLean says that students at the college are encouraged to keep track of how many plastic bottles have been saved as a way to motivate them to continue their eco-efforts and to help instill in them a sense of environmental responsibility that they will take into their future lives.
It’s this intersection between environmentalism and education that is the exciting part of green initiatives for many educators. Lisa Anderson, facilities director at Havergal, says teachers will be able to use the school’s new solar panels as educational aids in many different classes.
“Obviously it will be helpful in the science curriculum, when they are learning about electricity and when they are learning about green initiatives, but it will even be useful in business classes when we can start talking about what is the value of power when you are purchasing electricity from Toronto Hydro versus getting it from the sun.”
Schools are also using green initiatives to get interested students to meet industry professionals and discuss the projects. Members of Havergal’s environment club had the opportunity to meet with representatives from the firm that won the contract to install their solar panels, and over in Rosedale’s Branksome Hall, students were able to present their ideas for a green roof on the school’s new athletics centre to the architect designing it.
According to Julia Drake, communications director at Branksome Hall, it can also be useful to take the curriculum to the outdoors. With their greater resources, many independent schools are able to maintain green areas on campus or elsewhere around the city (Upper Canada College has a 430-acre estate just outside Norval), which can be used to inspire and educate.
At Branksome, girls make use of an “outdoor classroom” in a woodlot to learn about plants and animals, to connect with nature through art or just to relax.
“We are just steps from Yonge and Bloor but you’d think you are in a provincial park,” says Drake. What better environment to inspire?
Branksome Hall students studying in their “outdoor classroom”