Grade 2s care about the environment – and take action!  

Mrs. Kathnelson’s Grade 2 students from Hopewell P.S….believe that idling is a problem and are committed to doing their part to bring change. Enjoy their sincere submissions!

Anti-idling posters created by the Hopewell School Grade 2 students of teacher Lesley Kathnelson

By Jennifer Humphries

When teacher Lesley Kathnelson saw an item in the Capital Ward News about a Glebe Community Association (GCA) poster design competition aimed at discouraging vehicle idling, she was keen to share the news with her two Grade 2 classes at Hopewell Avenue Public School. Her students were ineligible on two counts: the competition was only for students in Grades 3 to 6 and only at schools in the Glebe. But they had discussed idling back in December, spurred by a student’s question about why cars near their school were kept running so long when they weren’t ready to go anywhere. Their teacher wanted them to know that the GCA was engaging with young people on this issue.

“Grade 2s are amazing,” Kathnelson, a Glebe resident for more than 20 years, said in a recent conversation. “Many people think that kids so young don’t understand, but they hear their parents talk about issues and they hear the news. Greta Thunberg, Autumn Peltier – these young environmentalists are their heroes. Maude Barlow spoke to my classes – she’s a rock star for them. Along with my teaching colleague Roxanne Partridge, who does the French program, I encourage the students to take action. They have voices. If they don’t like something, they can stand up and say it. Let them be advocates early on. They are so savvy at this age.”

On idling, Kathnelson’s students discussed cars being “warmed up” in the winter. They learned that new cars don’t require warming up – in fact they run better if they are in motion 10 seconds after being turned on. And most people don’t need much warming up if they are wearing winter clothing. Students concluded that their parents don’t need to turn on the ignition until everyone is in the car with seatbelts on. This would reduce idling by at least 15 seconds. Based on a couple of two-way trips a day, that’s 15 times 4 or 60 seconds. Repeated each day, that makes seven minutes a week. If every parent chauffeuring kids to and from school or weekend activities – say 200 drivers – followed suit, that’s 1,400 minutes or almost 24 hours less idling each week. That means less air pollution and less waste of fuel and money. One parent told Kathnelson she definitely can’t idle anymore – her Grade 2 child makes sure of it!

Changing their parents’ behaviour is one thing, but what can seven- and eight-year-olds accomplish on a larger scale? Quite a lot, as it happens! Kathnelson recounted that early in the pandemic, recycle bins were removed from the school and the children were concerned. Why couldn’t recycling continue? Why did they have to put recyclables in the waste bin? For a time, they all took recyclables home to put into their own blue and black bins. Then they decided to write to the director of education at the school board. It worked. The director agreed they could resume recycling. The custodial staff had to handle waste containers with caution and could do the same with recycling bins. The students acted and got results.

Water is also a big focus for Kathnelson’s students, who were inspired by the message from Peltier and Barlow about the need to protect our water. The Grade 2s wrote to the prime minister to ask why there are still boil water advisories in Indigenous communities. Here’s hoping they get a binding commitment to change that soon.

Kathnelson wants her students to know that they can lead an amazing and fulfilling life and be environmentally friendly. They are learning to make good choices. It starts with choosing to put recyclables in blue and black bins instead of in the trash. Then it’s choosing what to eat: locally grown food or food imported from faraway places. And those choices lead to tackling issues of all kinds.

Kathnelson is inspired by a quote from Robert Swan, an environmentalist, explorer and United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for Youth: “The greatest danger to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.” Her students are already starting to do their part.

Jennifer Humphries is co-chair of the Glebe Report Association and co-chair of the Environment Committee of the Glebe Community Association.

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