This School Solved the Environmental Education Equation
Red Deer, AB is home to Aspen Heights Elementary, one of three schools in Canada to have adopted the MicroSociety teaching format. Essentially, this means that the teachers facilitate ways for their students to take control of what goes on in their school, or rather, their “micro-society.” Throughout the year, students take part in a system that mirrors an actual society. Students learn about math and social studies concepts by using the school currency “stingers,” having jobs, paying taxes, establishing their own constitution and operating businesses. When I sat down to chat with one of their teachers, Allan Baile, it became clear to me that this is one school whose staff have figured out a successful equation for educating kids, especially about the environment:
Responsibility + Enthusiasm = Results
Learning Responsibility (through Environmental Action)
To break down Aspen Heights’ winning formula, let’s first focus on Responsibility. At Aspen Heights, students learn responsibility by helping run one of three businesses. Each student business focuses on a different part of the school’s local environment:
- The first business, the Worm Wranglers, are in charge of tending to the school’s worms and plants, composting, and re-using and recycling materials.
- The second business, Fish and Wildlife, maintains the school’s fish tanks and hydroponic system.
- Finally, there’s the Green World Foundation, whose members do regular checks around the school and playground to make sure that their “Litter Meter” does not reach the red zone.
All of these businesses operate via checklist - when the groups meet, they have a clear list of tasks that must be completed. With this system, the students gain the skills and discipline that come with being in charge while simultaneously helping their local environment. According to Baile, since the students take charge of their own school initiatives through the MicroSociety system, they tend to focus on environmental action.
Enthusiasm (for the Environment)
Next, let’s examine the Enthusiasm part of this successful equation. The kids at Aspen Heights truly have a passion for the environment. When asked about his experience working with such dedicated students, Baile didn’t hesitant to say that their enthusiasm was inspiring.
“As soon as you give them that little bit of initiative, they’re off and running, and then they want to learn more,” says Baile. “They’re quite inquisitive and conduct lots of research. All they need is that initial spark.”
Perhaps that is the reason that Aspen Heights’ environmental initiatives are becoming so large in scale. If the kids weren’t so passionate, they likely wouldn’t have filled out the fifteen-page application to run their own licensed bottle depot or spent time building a dome greenhouse in the schoolyard which runs completely off the grid.
This winning combination of responsibility and enthusiasm has lead to some impressive school initiatives. The students of Aspen Heights raise trout, toads, insects; they recycle batteries and ink cartridges; they re-use school materials to make crafts which they sell on public market days; and they operate grow towers and gardens. When asked what projects they have on the horizon, Baile said that the school has received a grant to install a solar power system. If that wasn’t enough, the school is also looking into getting a wind turbine to power the gymnasium and starting a pollinated garden once the snow melts.
All this is to say, the kids at Aspen Heights Elementary are unstoppable. If this is what they are able to do as elementary school students, I can’t wait to see what happens when they carry this responsibility and enthusiasm from their MicroSociety into the larger society.