Learning from the Ground Up

Ever Active Schools has been working with the high school in the community of Kainai for almost five years.  When they first started working with the school, Ever Active focused on general wellness and healthy eating for the students. Over time, their relationship with the school and students has evolved.

Several years ago, Ever Active conducted a Photovoice project at the high school. As part of this project, Ever Active outfitted students with cameras for two weeks. Their task was to take photos of places in the school and community that showed success surrounding the idea of health. They were also asked to take pictures of things that were creating barriers to being healthy. At the end of the project, students created a narrative of the pictures to explain what they saw. One of the standout results of the Photovoice project was that students repeatedly took pictures of a rundown greenhouse at the back of the school.

Students perceived the greenhouse as a symbol of their connection to the land. The fact that it was rundown, and in disrepair, represented how many of them felt disconnected towards the environment.  The students expressed hope that they could restore the greenhouse, and that it could provide healthy eating items for their school cafeteria. For the students and Ever Active Schools, a greenhouse rehabilitation project was born.

The project faced many challenges. Kainai is a rural community and it is expensive to get the materials and labour to do this kind of restoration work. Once operational, they needed buy-in from the school community to keep the greenhouse running. Greenhouses need constant attention, and finding this kind of commitment can be difficult.

To meet these challenges, Ever Active started small. With support from Alberta Ecotrust, students used earth boxes and self-watering planters inside the school to grow food during the winter.  The boxes and planters allowed them to provide food to their school cafeteria right away. When repairs to the greenhouse began in the spring, students were already involved in the project and ready to move in.

A “Green Team” was also created to keep students engaged. This group of grade nine students has become champions of the project, taking weekly shifts in the greenhouse and advocating for the project in the school.  The hope is that the Green Team will be able to see the greenhouse thrive throughout their entire high school experience.

During the last year, the students and Ever Active have rehabilitated the greenhouse, although some work remains for it to be properly winterized. The high school utilizes a project-based learning approach, and they have integrated the greenhouse into the curriculum in many of the classes. Project-based learning is a dynamic classroom approach in which students explore real-world problems. A greenhouse is a natural fit for the classes about agriculture and entrepreneurialism.

It takes time to build momentum into the school culture, but Ever Active has noticed a change in the last year. Students are very excited about growing food, and knowing where it comes from. Right now, the greenhouse is producing food for the cafeteria, and students are hopeful that in the future they can grow food for the larger community.

For the students, the greenhouse still remains a symbol. Only now it demonstrates how we can make healthy choices, and use these choices to connect back to our environment.

Did You Know?

Photovoice is a process in which people – usually those with limited power due to poverty, language barriers, race, class, ethnicity, gender, culture, or other circumstances – use video and/or photo images to capture aspects of their environment and experiences and share them with others. The pictures can then be used, usually with captions composed by the photographers, to bring the realities of the photographers’ lives home to the public and policy makers and to spur change.

This story is the fifth in our 12 Grants of Christmas series. In the days leading up to Christmas we will be featuring some of the best projects and stories from our grantees in the last year. Please return to our blog in the coming days and weeks to learn more about the incredible environmental work being done across Alberta. Other stories:

1. Making a Statement in Fort Chip

2. Living With Coyotes

3. Calgary Can: Recognizing People for their Environmental & Economic Contributions

4. Answering Hard Questions in Our Grasslands

5. Learning From the Ground Up

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