May 28, 2014

Kids spread the word on energy conservation

As published in The Erin Advocate

Erin councillors are staying well hydrated and well informed on water issues thanks to a presentation from the Water Rockers.

Abbey Collings and Jessie Cuthbert from the Grade 6 class at Erin Public School appeared as a delegation at the May 20 council meeting, presenting each of the politicians with a steel water bottle. The class has sold 200 of the special Erin bottles and hopes to sell more.

“We’ve done a lot of research this year about world water issues,” they said. “Our class came up with 2 main goals: to get our school and local community to use reusable water bottles every day, and to get everyone to appreciate how lucky we are to have our local water supply.”

Water Rockers Jessie Cuthbert (left) and Abbey Collings give
water bottles to politicians at a Town Council meeting.
The Water Rockers have submitted articles to the Advocate, appeared on Erin Radio and convinced all of the downtown businesses to support the Blue W conservation program. If people see a Blue W sticker in a business window they can fill a reusable water bottle there for free and get a discount on coffee or tea if it is sold there.

With the slogan, Erin: Our Local Water Rocks, the students are part of a movement to promote the use of tap water instead of bottled water, which is more expensive and uses up more energy. Businesses can register and people can get more information at

Local students have engaged in many environmental efforts in recent years, including work to qualify as Eco Schools. Public School Trustee Kathryn Cooper has led an effort to embed environmental principles into school board policies, both for curriculum and operation of buildings.

She said the Water Rockers are a good example of students being motivated to take action, in line with a mandate to create links with local communities.

Early this year, the Upper Grand School Board Business Operations Committee approved an “environmental sustainability action plan”, agreed to hire a Sustainability Coordinator and directed that environmental factors be considered in all board policies and decisions.
“We want to create environmentally conscious citizens,” said Cooper. “The work has just started. We need to push to integrate the policy into the schools.”

When principals and teachers are working on School Improvement Plans, they will now have stronger backing to try ideas for advancing student learning by incorporating environmental concepts into various subject areas, and they will be held accountable in this regard, said Cooper.

She likes the idea of coordinating school gardens and composting with kitchen operations, and using fruit trees as part of plans to “green up” school grounds.

The board is always looking for ways to save money in its operations. As an example, Cooper would like to reduce the use of photocopying and paper, which costs the board about $1 million per year.

Solar panels have been installed at 41 schools, including Brisbane and Erin Public, feeding power into the Hydro grid. Schools can track their renewable energy production live on-line and compare cloudy and sunny days.

Brisbane has generated 17.5 MWh of electricity since last May, while Erin Public has generated 18.2 MWh. Each school has offset more than 16 metric tons of carbon that would have flowed into the atmosphere if dirty energy sources had been used for equivalent generation. That’s about the same benefit as 30% of an acre of pine forest, or of not operating an average passenger car for 3.57 years.

The solar panels are producing income of about $375,000 a year for the board, some of which is funding the new Sustainability Coordinator position.

“We want to re-invest that money in learning and more energy efficiency,” said Cooper.

The board’s procedure for environmental issues is now guided by the following goals:
“Environmental education enables students to develop the knowledge and skills they need to be environmentally active and responsible citizens and to apply their knowledge and skills cooperatively to effect long term change.

“Students must be active participants in shaping their future. Student engagement involves the active participation of all students in sustainable environmental practices, a strong student voice in decision making, and involvement in the school and community in meaningful ways.

“By exercising environmental responsibility in the management of its own operations, the Board can serve as a model of corporate citizenship for students and the broader community and ensure coherence with the environmental messages conveyed by the curriculum.”