With the support of our partner BC Hydro, Science World spotlights amazing and passionate leaders. They help students and community members develop clean energy mindsets and power smart practices for a brighter future.
Two years ago, Ferris Elementary won the title of Greenest School in Canada. Teacher and environmental steward Kevin Lyseng headed a number of initiatives that contributed to their success.
Today, he traces his part in this achievement back to a lesson he learned in his Grade 8 science class.
Thanks to his enterprising teacher, Kevin created a small-scale solar energy project in the early days of the technology.
In 1976, to generate all the energy for his home, Kevin would need 50m by 50m of solar panels—a huge expense and property that most families didn’t have.
“It was a stunning realization,” Kevin says today. “I knew then that moving to alternatives was going to be a real challenge and it was going to take a lot of advancement.”
The moment crystallized for him just how important it can be to get hands-on experiences that directly connect to one’s environment.
It’s why he became a teacher, and it’s why he’s been known to take his students on over a dozen fieldtrips in a year. And Kevin says the low effort of today’s online fieldtrips still have a high value.
This year, a favourite venue among his students was Metro Vancouver Watersheds. They took a virtual tour among the wildlife and ancient trees that surround our drinking water supply system.
"Of course, it's not the same as in-person,” Kevin says, “but it was still brilliant. And, it directly aligns with our school values."
Drops in the Ocean
“If you survey students about what they gain in our school, inevitably, they come back as saying that Ferris has HEART,” Kevin says.
It’s an acronym that stands for helpful, empathetic, accountable, respectful, and truly kind. Built into each of these values is attention to the environment. As Kevin says, to respect yourself is to respect your environment.
Kevin's district-wide Eco-Wise Sustainability Pledge helps garner that attention to the environment and "make energy more visible, which can be tricky."
Teachers and students promise to turn off lights, recycle, unplug from power and shut doors. Kevin supports these efforts through individual campaigns. During Lights Out Lunch, students eat in darkness. On Sweater Day, the heat goes down and people dress warmly.
One of their most trackable conservation successes comes in the form of water-bottle refilling stations.
About ten years ago, Ferris Elementary used up to 25,000 disposable containers a year. Returning these bottles provided a good revenue stream. However, it took a huge amount of time and space to collect and sort them, making it difficult to ignore the energy it must take to produce them.
The students made the conscious decision to reduce.
Combining a $1,000 grant from the Richmond School District; the earnings they’d won from Science World’s BC Green Games; recycling deposits; and grants that Kevin had applied for, they started purchasing water bottle refilling stations.
To date, hundreds of thousands of bottle refills have occurred and they collect fewer than 75 containers per week--a 90% reduction since 2012.
This is just one of the dozens of initiatives that make Ferris one of the greenest schools in Canada. In addition, they have vertical greenhouses and garden beds in their library courtyards; reverse lunches where students play outdoors first and eat second, resulting in a 20-fold reduction of wasted food in the garbage; and a tree-planting program to help students find comfort from the sun in the shade.
"There are many projects that relate to energy, and their impacts overlap,” Kevin says. “It’s a complicated story, as is conservation. Put simply, when kids leave here, they have green thoughts.”
Across BC, teachers like Kevin make schools and communities more sustainable.
Teachers can visit Power Smart for Schools, BC Hydro’s free, curriculum-friendly resources that bring clean energy and conservation to life in the classroom.