St. Marguerite maintains an outdoor garden in which multiple school stakeholders are involved: the children plant in the spring; parents and neighbours donate plants and flowers; and children, parents, and community members all take part in watering. If the school needs to remove a tree (such as for construction), another native tree is planted.
St. Marguerite’s faith is integral to its commitment to environmentalism. Quotations from Laudato Si’ and banners for the current year’s Joyful Disciples theme, as well as those from past years (such as Renewing the Faith or Faith in Action), are displayed throughout the school, highlighting the connection between living out one’s faith and care for the earth. This faith is holistic—the school community’s initiatives are designed to care for everyone in every way possible. The school has a uniform closet where outgrown uniforms are made available to all students, which is particularly helpful for students of lower socioeconomic status. Several of the school’s initiatives connect physical well-being and care for the environment: “If it makes our earth better, it makes us better.” Every year the school holds a Healthy Eco Fair, which draws hundreds of participants from the Hamilton area, including the mayor and bishop. Students with diverse abilities help with the school’s nutrition program, delivering food baskets containing snacks for every student to the classrooms. The school’s commitment to providing heathy lunches and snacks for each student not only keeps junk food away from students’ diets but also reduces plastic garbage from unhealthy packaged snacks and fast food. After completing a project measuring the sugar content of drinks, students introduced a policy prohibiting juice boxes at the school. The school also has designated outdoor fitness times to promote students’ physical health.
What Makes this Work?
The full commitment of teachers has been necessary for the success of the school. The principal emphasized that St. Marguerite’s creation care initiatives are a team effort, initiated by both students and teachers and supported by the entire school community. As one staff member insisted, “You can’t do this sort of thing with just one committed person. Everyone has to buy in.”
St. Marguerite d’Youville Catholic School: The Greenest School in Canada
Since school unity is foundational to the sustainability of ecological stewardship initiatives, St. Marguerite’s environmentalism and its efforts to build community in other areas of the school are mutually reinforcing. The staff at St. Marguerite believe that the “Eat Together” initiative, for instance, has been central to the success of the environmentally sound school culture. Students share meals inside the school. Their food is waste-free as much as possible, and no food is permitted on the school grounds during recess, to minimize littering and to avoid attracting pests. Students and staff also eat the same school snacks provided through the nutrition program. The school nurtures a culture of hospitality as well: the leaders are out in front of the school as students arrive and depart, where they also talk with neighbours who live near the school. St. Marguerite’s outdoor garden creates a good network with members of the surrounding community, who appreciate the attractive gardens and native trees that are planted and maintained each year, which builds their support for the school. Community members attend the Healthy Eco Fairs and other special events. Many volunteers in the neighbourhood are quite attached to the school, the children, and the faculty and staff.
The dedication of St. Marguerite’s principal—for which she received the Award of Merit for Distinguished Service to Catholic Education from the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board in 2018 (Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board 2018)—has been central to the school’s success. She reports that she wanted to be at this school because it was already established as a green school. In her five years as principal, she has encouraged involvement from all members of the school community: students join an eco-team; nursing students work on healthy initiatives and projects with the school, such as the Healthy Action Team. Teachers who have worked at other schools report observing a higher level of staff involvement at St. Marguerite compared to other schools. The principal sees environmental education and practice as a way to give students hope by empowering them with the awareness and ability to participate in the renewal of the earth.
Staff members emphasized the importance of kindergarten in setting the stage for the rest of students’ school experience, insisting that a robust stewardship program in the early years is critical. Students are taught to practice environmentally sustainable habits in the classroom—such as recycling paper, turning off lights, and not bringing single-use plastics to school—from the beginning of their school years at St. Marguerite.
Engaging the community in care for the environment
- The Christian mandate to care for creation means that Christian schools have a unique responsibility to promote environmental stewardship.
- It takes everyone involved in the school community to make a school “green”; the task requires much effort from a wide variety of stakeholders.
- Encouraging students to take active roles in green school projects deepens their understanding of and desire to pursue environmental sustainability.
- Inviting stakeholders to collaborate with students and staff on “greening” projects encourages the community’s support for environmental initiatives. All-school community garden
- Promoting physical health and encouraging environmental stewardship are complementary goals.
- A shared commitment to environmentalism and strengthening school community through other initiatives are mutually reinforcing: while a team mindset is a necessary foundation for whole-school stewardship initiatives, improving the school’s environmental sustainability also acts as a shared goal around which students, staff, and the wider community can unite.
All-school community garden