Holy Trinity School Undergoes ‘Environmental Revolution’

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Holy Trinity School in Richmond Hill, Ontario has taken great strides to become an environmentally-friendly school, at the grassroots. Their commitment to improving the health of their school community and the environment is being reflected in their school culture, operations and curriculum. In one initiative alone, Holy Trinity has lowered its exposure to toxins and reduced its waste by replacing many of its toxic, disposable markers with non-toxic, refillable markers. As a result, Holy Trinity will be sending 500 pounds less of toxic waste to their local landfill this year.

The environmental sustainability coordinator calls it “the awakening of green consciousness”; the school administration calls it part of their 5-year strategic plan. The changes put in place last year by Holy Trinity School to become an environmentally-friendly facility were diverse, creative and rapid, earning the Anglican day school a Gold Certification from Ontario EcoSchools. Since the beginning of the new school year, Holy Trinity has continued its undertaking and has replaced many of its toxic, disposable whiteboard markers with non-toxic, refillable, recyclable ones – a step that will reduce classroom toxicity and save on approximately 500 pounds of toxic waste.

“Last year was an environmental revolution,” explained Jacqueline Butler, the environmental coordinator for Holy Trinity School “and this year we are stepping it up a notch.” Their first initiative once they got back to school was to get rid of disposable markers in several departments in favour of AusPen eco-friendly markers, a 100% recycled aluminum marker which is refillable with a non-toxic ink made of an organic vegetable dye. “The smell of the regular markers was making one of our teachers ill, so another teacher found AusPens,” said Butler. After a year of piloting the eco-friendly product, “The teachers raved. We polled the teachers to see who else would want to use these markers, and the response was overwhelming. Now our entire middle school and our senior science, music, modern languages and drama departments have switched,” says Butler.

Following her return to work after maternity leave, Butler found herself more keenly aware of the future. “There is a big opportunity to introduce environmental education and make a difference when 700+ students are listening!” explained Butler. “Our focus was on the ‘little’ things, the daily things that we could change.” An Eco-Team was formed, comprising 15 faculty members and a large number of students from kindergarten to grade 12. Their vision was to infuse an environmental awareness in the school culture, operations and curriculum.

The environmental activities at Holy Trinity School focus primarily on reducing waste, conserving energy and greening the school grounds. Items that were wasteful (water bottles), couldn’t be recycled at school (tetra juice boxes), couldn’t be disposed of responsibly (plastic whiteboard markers), or had recyclable versions (toners and cartridges) were banned or replaced with greener alternatives. Single use items, such as paper coffee cups and milk cartons, were replaced with permanent items like mugs and a milk machine. They got rid of the gloss on their school magazine to make it recyclable, and they earned a carbon-neutral designation for the magazine. Plastic bags were limited to certain areas, reducing their disposal of plastic bags by about 20 per day. A new series of ‘House Gardens’ was constructed to provide food and ornamentals, and give the school the opportunity to donate food to local groups.

As for energy conservation, Holy Trinity replaced its gym lighting with energy efficient bulbs and is installing new energy efficient lighting with sensors throughout the rest of the building in phases this year. A stuffed pig, the Energy Hog, is presented to a class that has forgotten to turn off its lights or monitors, and the class has to be on the lookout for who to pass their unwelcomed award onto. Guest speakers such as Franke James, award-winning author of the book, ‘Bothered by my Green Conscience’, motivate the students and lead them through practical workshops, and an award system recognizes students for their outstanding stewardship.

When asked what advice they might give to other schools looking to go green, Butler says that the key is to continue to make progress. “The awakening of green conscience is a journey,” says Butler, “If we looked at other schools who are ahead of us, it would be overwhelming. It doesn’t matter where we are compared to others. If we just keep advancing, we will meet our purpose.”

For more information on Holy Trinity School, go to: http://www.hts.on.ca/

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Maureen O'Neill

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