Lacombe Composite High School teacher and environmental visionary Steve Schultz has been honoured for his commitment to shaping student leaders.
“I’ve just had the incredible privilege of winning two awards presented to me at the end of October. The first was a surprise — I presented at the CTEC Conference (Career and Technology Educators’ Council) in Canmore as they had asked for our students to do keynote speeches. We did a lunch-hour talk on our projects.”
Following the presentations, Schultz was presented with a teaching excellence award.
The other award — the Outstanding Agriculture Teacher Award — wasn’t a surprise, but it meant just as much.
“They invited my students and me to attend a harvest gala and at the end of it, they invited me up in front of 300 agricultural shakers and makers in the province and presented me with this award,” he said. “What’s amazing about this particular award is that my students could participate in it — both of these awards, actually.”
Schultz is well-known for launching the EcoVision project at the school, which has seen many groundbreaking and award-winning projects come to fruition over the years — even on a global scale.
At the heart of his work is a passion for creating student leaders.
“I have discovered that one of the ways to do that is to create projects that they can be part of from the beginning to the end,” he explained.
“The students dream about projects they would like to see happen, they research those projects, they fundraise, and they are part of the building of those projects.”
Looking back, the first major project for EcoVision was the development of a greenhouse technician program, and the curriculum was created with the help of Olds College.
The greenhouse at Lacombe Composite is a tropical one, and near ‘net zero’ which means fossil fuels are not used in its operation.
”The success of the greenhouse spurred students on to try out more agricultural projects, so I introduced Agriculture 10, 20, and 30,” he said, adding that these courses explore all aspects of the food production process.
In 2016, EcoVision launched a beekeeping program again with the help of Olds College, and then an urban beekeeping program.
The school’s innovative spirit had an impact at City Hall. Starting in 2021, Lacombe has officially become a bee-friendly community.
“Anybody can own bees, and they follow every one of our recommendations which is really, really special,” said Schultz.
“My students also now provide training opportunities for community members,” he said.
Lacombe Composite also became the first school in Canada to have a bee-keeping program for credits.
“We have since replicated that in several schools throughout Alberta, and now into B.C. and Saskatchewan.”
Next up came a focus on establishing a food forest and raised beds.
“We grow enough produce not only to help supplement what our foods programs use, but we also have excess produce that we sell at farmers’ markets, conventions, and conferences,” he said.
“It’s the same with our honey. This year, we produced about 1,000 lbs. of honey, and we also sell that at farmers’ markets,” he said, adding that some local businesses carry these products as well.
Following this, the students were considering ways to keep the grasses down near the school and were also looking for sources of natural fertilizer.
“We introduced four baby goats in the middle of COVID, and amazingly the goats also provided animal therapy. On average, 175 students were walking the goats each day during COVID. And now, our goat program is probably our most popular program.”
Other EcoVision projects include the Epic Garden.
“Students heard about the unmarked graves in Revelstoke, and said we have to do something for our Indigenous peoples.”
They learned it was getting increasingly challenging to harvest sacred herbs.
“We got a list of 25 sacred herbs that had disappeared from this area, and we re-introduced them into our Indigenous garden,” he said.
“This year, we also discovered that 21 per cent of our students are food insecure, so with the help of our EcoVision students, we wanted to make a difference there,” he said.
“We started introducing snacks once a week last year, and then this year, we launched a snack every day. We now want to take it to the next level where we get students to learn how to make their own snacks, and have students involved in every part of the process of food security.
“I feel that this is a really important project because students can’t learn when they are hungry. We also need the help of the community, and it’s a really beautiful partnership that is starting to develop.”
For Schultz, a passion for the environment was sparked early on.
“I grew up in Africa, where my parents ran a mission hospital. They took care of lepers, and they also did food distribution during the famines,” he said.
“They were always going beyond themselves, and volunteering to help other people who were less fortunate. So I had that as a model,” he said.
He completed his university education and settled in at Lacombe Composite back in 1997.
“One day, in 2006, in my class’s environmental unit, I made the statement that words without actions are meaningless. Three months later, a student came to me and wanted to do a project for the school,” he recalled.
“What awoke in me was this is what I’m created for,” he said.
“Teaching is a platform for me to be able to invest in students’ lives on a deeper level. And I knew that day that I was born to help grow student leaders.”