Going to EcoSchool

Even from the outside Holy Cross Secondary School doesn’t seem like a typical high school. Once a medical supply factory, the building was “repurposed” in the late 1990s as a school and the Catholic school board’s head office.

Think of it as a large-scale example of recycling – a view that meshes nicely with a bone deep emphasis on environmental responsibility that makes Holy Cross anything but typical on the inside.

Julia Taylor and Mike Halloran are science teachers who help cultivate that green vision. They teach environmental science, organize an Eco School club and appear to function as the school’s environmental conscience at the staff level.

Their enthusiasm has spread across the school community. As a result, Holy Cross has qualified for platinum designation by the Ontario EcoSchools program.

EcoSchools success is based on school-wide commitment. Points are awarded for performance in each of a variety of categories and the total number of points earned translates to bronze, silver, gold or platinum status.

Holy Cross has been an EcoSchool for six years. Five straight years of gold certification qualified the school to apply for the platinum level when it was introduced for the first time last year.

There are nearly 1,800 registered EcoSchools in the province. Holy Cross is one of about 70 designated platinum.

Kyle Morton had a direct hand in that success. A Grade 12 student, Morton spent the fall term working on the EcoSchools certification application and other green projects as his co-op placement.

Morton and Grade 10 students Jose Uy and Emmanuel Pinto are members of the Holy Cross Eco School club. During a late afternoon interview in the empty school cafeteria they talk about some of the projects they’re involved in.

Morton steps out to retrieve one of their composting mini-bins. Attached to the sides of large blue recycling barrels that sit in the cafeteria during lunch periods, the mini-bins are wrapped in green construction paper and emblazoned with the Eco School club name. Students who are already recycling paper and plastic toss food scraps into the mini-bins.

Cafeteria composting is one result of an ongoing waste audit overseen by two Trent University environmental science majors. During the audit Jose and Emmanuel were garbage pickers – mining the school’s garbage for organic waste. A weigh-in of their collected treasure showed that composting would make a difference and the green bin project was born.

It’s one of many the school has taken on. A $1,000 grant from Toyota (students wrote the grant application) paid for 10 native shade trees that were planted behind the bleachers next to the track and athletics field. Water fountains that refill personal drinking bottles and record the number of disposal bottles saved are expected to arrive soon.

There is a butterfly garden on the property and a green roof garden accessible from a second floor hallway. Coming soon: a beehive for the green roof that Taylor said will “have a huge educational component. That leads into our pollinators and importance of pollinators and plants on the property.”

But the project with the biggest impact is a community garden developed in partnership with Calvary Church and the Peterborough Community Garden Network. It is located on the church property next door to Holy Cross.

Special education students collect compost that fertilizes the garden. A construction class built the garden shed. Students start seedlings in the school greenhouse and dozens more are involved in spring planting. Kawartha Food Share and various food banks reap some of the harvest.

Taylor and Halloran estimate that as many as 180 students – nearly a third of the entire school population – are involved in some way.

They say the real benefit of the Eco School approach will come as students inspired by something like the garden project develop a life-long interest in environmental stewardship.

“I kind of see what we are doing as planting seeds,” Taylor explains. “You eventually hope that some of the kids … who hadn’t given that a thought before, maybe it’s something they’ll consider down the road.”

This is one of a series of articles commissioned and paid for by Sustainable Peterborough and published in partnership with The Peterborough Examiner.  By Jim Hendry, Peterborough Examiner, original article published Saturday, March 14, 2016.