ENNISMORE — Shovels in hand, a group of local students turned young greenthumbs gathered at a former gravel pit in Ennismore on Friday to plant hundreds of trees — part of a collaborative rehabilitation effort between Otonabee Conservation, Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board and a handful of community partners committed to environmental stewardship.
Members of Youth Leadership in Sustainability — Grade 11 and 12 students from public high schools, including Crestwood Secondary School, Thomas A. Stewart Secondary School and Peterborough Alternative and Continuing Education at PCVS — planted white spruces, white cedars and red and white pines to revitalize the Boundary Road site in Selwyn Township.
Participants aimed to plant 400 trees throughout the day.
The YLS program, founded in 2018, adopts an “integrated curriculum” model, teaching students inside and outside of the classroom over the course of one semester.
Students, who earn four high school credits through the program, explore a myriad of issues, from “big picture” environmental, economic, human rights topics to resource management, climate change, advocacy work and Indigenous literature.
Each fall, a new cohort of YLS students plant trees, go on field trips carry out a number of environmental initiatives — putting classroom theory to real-world practice.
The group recently went to Catchacoma forest. Next week, they’re off to the Petroglyphs.
“There’s a strong emphasis on field learning. We try to connect with the land as much as we can. This, at first glance, is tree planting. But the larger picture is ecological restoration,” Cam Douglas, YLS founder and co-ordinator, told the Examiner.
“We’re taking a degraded site and bringing it back to life to re-establish biodiversity. It’s close to our home, too. This is somewhere the kids can come back to and see their trees and walk the trails,” Douglas said.
“The idea, ultimately, is for young people to understand the planetary challenges but also to explore solutions and understand those solutions in a community context.”
The program also sharpens students’ budding leadership skills, he said.
“That’s so they can advocate for a sustainable future once they’ve completed the program,” Douglas said.
A course within the program teaches students how to craft press releases and harness the influence of media. YLS members also learn how to engage with politicians and elected officials to advocate for environmental causes.
Micah McDonald, a Grade 13 student at PACE who wants to become a marine biologist, said YLS is an engaging introduction into environmental sciences.
The township-owned gravel site is the perfect place for YLS’s initiative to take root, he said.
“I think that there’s a lot of barren places and it’s a good starting place. The end goal is to plant trees everywhere,” McDonald said.
Not only is the tree-planting campaign helping to rejuvenate an Ennismore ecosystem, it’s also rejuvenating the mental health of youth — isolated for months — by allowing students to gather with one another as they emerge from the pandemic.
“it’s really great to be around people, especially people who are like-minded. We all share the same attitudes toward the environment and social issues.”
Ultimately, Otonabee Conservation hopes to plant 1,500 trees in the area thanks to the support of NEFAB Canada, One Tree Planted, Caterpillar and Selwyn Township.
“It all comes back to doing whatever we need to do to get the kids to school.”
Brendan Burke is a staff reporter at the Examiner, based in Peterborough. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.
Brendan Burke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Peterborough Examiner