New Environmental Leaders' Project Launched for Students

No doubt the first teachers to use a stone-age dwelling as a primitive schoolhouse thought themselves the originators of a brilliant breakthrough in education. ‘No more cave drawings for us!’ But in so doing, something was lost: the ability of students to touch, to smell, to climb, to experience.

Last year, Thames Valley launched a new grade 10 multi-credit environmental program through our London Environmental Education Centre. The H-ELP (Head, Hearts, Hands approach to Environmental Leaders’ Project) brings together a group of student leaders from various secondary schools, and empowers them with engaging experiential learning opportunities.

Learning in the outdoors not only offers a unique context for learning but also provides experiential learning outside the classroom to foster a connection to local places and to develop a greater understanding of ecosystems. Natural and human-built environments can be used as sites for discovery, problem-solving, and active learning, as well as for first-hand experiences that put students in touch with nature.

According to Erin Mutch, Learning Coordinator for Environmental Education, Science, and Experiential Learning, the course was developed for two main reasons: Foremost, 15 year-olds are capable and competent critical thinkers who can contribute to their community. Secondly, there's a lot to learn from interacting with the local landscape that students confined to classrooms miss out on. 

A typical day for students enrolled in the program varies. “One day we might be planning for a week of visits from grade fours who will come snowshoeing at the Environmental Education Centre. We'll draw on our Physical Education curriculum and our Writing and Oral Communication skills from the English curriculum,” says Erin. “Another day, we might work with the Conservation Authority to mark trails, and develop interpretive signage and pull from our Civics and Careers curriculum. A third day we might be learning about local bird identification and submitting our data as part of a Citizen Science project. In order to learn about the health of the Great Lakes, we'll travel to one of them and conduct our own research alongside local experts.”

Students from across Thames Valley enrolled in a full timetable of grade 9 credits interested in applying for the program must submit their application by February 7, 2020 for their 2020-21 grade 10 year.

The benefits to students participating in H-ELP are substantial. Environmental education is a process that allows students to explore environmental issues, engage in problem solving, and take action to improve the environment. As a result, they develop a deeper understanding of environmental issues and learn transferrable skills that are valuable for any future career.

More information on the program can be found on the H-ELP website.

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