ST. STEPHEN – St. Stephen Middle School was named a UNESCO school, one of just nine in New Brunswick and the only one in Charlotte County.
UNESCO stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. There are four main pillars of the UNESCO school network in Canada: exploring the UNESCO mission of creating sustainable development goals, global citizenship education, education for sustainable development and climate action, and Indigenous education and reconciliation.
The school has also received a climate action grant of more than $12,000 that is being used, in part, to achieve the UNESCO objectives.
Principal Bronwyn Tanner explained one of the UNESCO objectives the school will be working on this spring is a program around digital literacy.
Teachers Josh Cheney and Krista Bourque-McGinn work with students to develop strategies and implement plans to achieve the UNESCO and green objectives. Cheney is a language arts and social studies teacher, while Bourque-McGinn teaches math and science.
“There are a few of us that come at it from a different angle,” said Cheney.
He said the UNESCO goals are very broad, allowing for flexibility in implementation. Cheney leads a social action project with students. They choose a topic that matters to them then create a project around that topic.
“Learn about it, do something about it,” Cheney said.
He helps the students with the process of researching so they can take action that matters and has an impact. It’s about, he explained, going deeper into the issue, talking with experts, separating valid information from what is less valid and coming up with an action plan based on the research. Developing critical thinking skills is a key of the projects.
Cheney says most topics the students choose will fit into one of the UNESCO action categories. Sometimes he will help a student refine an idea so it will fit into one of the categories.
Allowing the students to choose topics that matter to them, he says, makes the project mean more to the students, makes them willing to work harder at it and helps create the setting for a successful outcome.
Cheney has had the opportunity to participate in global UNESCO education sessions around media information literacy. The virtual sessions comprised eight hours in total and allowed him to connect with educators from around the world and learn about digital literacy, which he can then bring back to his students.
“The problem isn’t getting information, the problem is knowing which information to believe,” he said.
Digital literacy and critical thinking about media and information are things he talks with his students about, not just as part of the social action projects but throughout the school year.
Bourque-McGinn concentrates more on implementing strategies related to the climate action grant.
A big part of the project has been gathering information and preparing for how to make use of the grant. She and her students have put monitors on photocopiers and other devices to determine how much energy they use. She is looking at broadening recycling efforts at the school as well.
“We want to expand it from just paper and cardboard,” said Bourque-McGinn.
They held information sessions with the Southwest Solid Waste Commission to help educate the students.
Bourque-McGinn says the school worked with Gaia Project, a climate non-profit, to run an energy detective project.
“They sent us energy counters that we would plug in to various devices around the school and then calculate how many kilowatts were used,” she said.
She would like to bring in a large composter that could be used in their kitchen to help reduce food waste.
“Really develop our green space outside,” she said, to promote outdoor learning and do some new planting on the grounds around the school.
New habits have been developed as a result of the project. When someone sees a light on that doesn’t need to be, they turn it off. They are investigating installing motion sensor lights that would turn on and off automatically.
Some of the implementation has started already. Instead of using plastic bags and trays for the school lunch program, they have ordered reusable Bento boxes to help reduce waste. The school has purchased a dishwasher to help reduce water waste, as well.
Bourque-McGinn is hopeful they will be able to start implementing some of their bigger plans before the school year ends. The outdoor work will likely start as the weather improves.