Lacombe Composite High School (LCHS) was recently named Canada’s Greenest School by the Canada Green Building Council along with Trinity College School in Port Hope, ON.
Jade Benoit, a Grade 10 student who is involved with the Ecovision Club at the school, said the award is an achievement that many students have worked very hard for.
“It shows that no matter where you are, you can make a difference. You have to put your mind towards it and work for it,” she said.
Benoit is just beginning her journey with Ecovision. but is looking forward to what the next three years will bring.
“I am happy to be more connected with our school and the projects taking place,” she said. “I am part of beekeeping and I am really enjoying it.
“I got to help out with sales at the Lacombe Memorial Centre and that was super fun. I really liked it.”
Steve Schultz, who was recently named Citizen of Year by the Lacombe and District Chamber of Commerce, said the Greenest School award is the result of collaboration between students, staff, administration, the Wolf Creek Public School Board and community partners.
Much of the kudos belong to the Ecovision club at LCHS, which has pioneered the green projects that have transformed the school and the community as a whole.
“Ecovision started in 2007 with a group of students that wanted to make our school off the grid,” Schultz said. “They were quite brave. They came to me and I told them that if you don’t take action, words are basically useless. We teach a lot of knowledge, but only when you apply that knowledge is when it becomes valuable.
“They took that and we became the second school in Alberta to have solar panels on the roof of our school.”
The success of the first project by Ecovision resulted in the formation of the Club’s three pillars — those being helping the environment, helping their education and helping the community.
“If one of those are missing, the project quickly falls apart,” Schultz said.
All of the projects are entirely led, developed, researched and built by students and the club has a mandate to do all of their own fundraising in order not to tax the school or the community.
“The students have to be willing to commit and if it is a big project, they have to be willing to commit for their whole high school time.,” Schultz said.
Since the installation of the three-year solar panel project, the Club has gone on to create a greenhouse, community gardens, an outdoor classroom, a commercial aquaponics system and the latest project being a urban beekeeping program.
“The beekeeping program has been a huge success and had taken several years to get the bees onto the property with collaboration from the school board and community volunteers,” Schultz said.
Students, depending on the student and the project, have committed anywhere from 100 to 1,000 volunteer hours for these projects.
“Once they understand they are becoming student leaders, they quickly realize they have to be passionate about the project. I think we do a good job of sustaining students and I like to ensure they are receiving the recognition they deserve,” Schultz said.
The extra hours put in has allowed Ecovision to present their projects to groups like the City of Calgary, Environmental Expo, Alberta Centre for Education and Environment, the City of Banff, and an upcoming presentation to Lacombe County for beekeeping.
LCHS is now also in talks to offer dual-credit programs through both Olds College and Lakeland College. Schultz has also been able to turn the projects into courses including robotics, agriculture and beekeeping — all allowing students to earn 20 high school credits.
Schultz is proud of his students for breaking barriers.
“I tell my students that if there isn’t some sort of push back, maybe our project isn’t as innovative as we thought or maybe it isn’t as creative as we thought — maybe it is not really breaking barriers. We expect a little push back and we expect it be hard,” he said.
Fundraising and research has been particularly challenging for students.
“It is difficult to do research for a whole year on project before you even put a shovel in the ground. That takes guts and determination, but we have also been able to establish an entrepreneurial model that other schools can copy and model to have success. There are a lot of schools nipping at our heels and could deserve these same awards,” Schultz said.
Schultz is thankful for the community support, including families who have helped maintain the gardens in the summer through the school’s Adopt-a-Garden program.
Schultz wants people to know that even with community support and staff support — it is the students who have won the award.
“They have put in the hard work,” he said. “I often tell them that it is like salmon when they are spawning. You have to go up stream to get something that is really productive. The salmon fights against the stream at all cost to get to their breeding ground. Out of that comes new life.
“That is a cool illustration of what my students do and it takes courage to do something that requires time and often their friends are not doing. They see the value in it. It is good for our community, the school and the environment.”