Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Notes on the PLC: Environmentalism and Sustainability: How our sector is promoting green awareness

Yesterday was a perfect, warm, sunny day for our Environmentalism and Sustainability: How our sector is promoting green awareness at Ruthven Park National Historic Site.

We had four presenters. Notes on their presentations follow.

Natalie Campbell, Education Coordinator At Ruthven Park National Historic Site.

In the bird banding lab at Ruthven Park.
Natalie Campbell is a certified teacher, a museum lover, and a lifelong learner.  She loves the fact that her job involves both Historic Education and Environmental Education. You are more likely to find her in a pair of mucky boots than in a pair of stilettos – and that’s the way she likes it! After three years of working with the bird banders at Ruthven and learning all about birds, she has finally decided to learn to fly herself. If she is not on a trail, exploring a new gallery, or enjoying fantastic food, she is probably up in the air…trying to remember what all the controls do!
Natalie presented on her work as Educator at Ruthven, and included a great trip to the Bird banding lab and wonderful lunch time hike around some of the grounds.

Ruthven Park has 1500 acres of land on both sides of the Grand River, some of which is farmland, trails, Carolinian forests, and even an island with protected species.

Education at Ruthven began with a focus on history; Natalie has a background in environmental education, and so was able to add this very important dimension to Ruthven's programming. Programs cover all the grades; specific focus in grade 4 on habitats, grade 7 on species at risk, and grade 9 on stewardship.

With the diversity of Ruthven's property, programs include information on reptiles, insects, mammals and birds. The Butterfly Meadow is an area of future focus for the site.

With a trip to the Bird banding lab we got a hands-on experience of the birding program at Ruthven. The banders have been working there for 19 years, and received 2800 visitors last year. Data collected at the lab is internationally available for researchers. Answers to frequently asked questions for the bird banders can be found here.

Ruthven has models of about seven of the species that can be found on its property. These are highly detailed, life sized replicas, used for school groups and other visitors, and are particularly useful in teaching visually-impaired students.

Ruthven has four staff members, complemented by about 4 or 5 summer students seasonally.

Karen Dearlove, Curator for Chiefswood National Historic Site.

Karen Dearlove was born and raised in Cambridge, Ontario.  She received a PhD in History from McMaster University, and while in graduate school was active in public and local history.  She worked as an interpreter and supervisor at McDougall Cottage, a community museum owned and operated by the Region of Waterloo.  She also served on the steering committee for the recently opened Waterloo Region Museum in Kitchener.  Karen chaired the City of Cambridge Archives Board for several years, and with the archives board spear-headed two local history symposiums held in Cambridge in 2007 and 2009.  After graduating from McMaster University, Karen worked in the Brantford area as Executive Director of the Canadian Industrial Heritage Centre and Executive Director of the Living History Multimedia Association.  Karen is a managing editor and regular contributor to the Active History website.  Since May 2011 Karen has worked as Curator for Chiefswood National Historic Site on the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory.

Karen presented on the restored tall grass prairie program and how environmental education has been built around it at Cheifswood.

Chiefswood is a 4.5 acre property (originally 225 acres), first owned by George HM Johnson, a Mohawk chief. He married Emily Howles, and began building the home you now find on the property in the 1850s. He worked as an interpreter for an Anglican missionary. 
The youngest daughter of Emily and George was the famous poet Pauline Johnson, born in 1861.
The home has gone through several restorations, and was designated as a national heritage site in 1992.

In the late 1990s, a study was completed of the natural ground, and a proscribed burn was recommended for the property on the north side of the house. This readied the area for the reintroduction of natural species of the tall grass prairie, found throughout the Carolinian forest and Grand river plains areas.  There is less than 1% of these tall grass prairies left due to agriculture, development, and invasive species. These areas are very important, as they support many animal and insect species native to this area.

A wonderful tie in between the history of the property's residents and the natural history/resources on the site, the tall grass prairie program, including 1 full acre of land, has educational material which illustrates Native American uses for these plants. Detailed brochures are available which outline these different plant species throughout the seasons. Find links to these brochures here.

Karen has noted Native American Ethnobotany as a very good resource for this research.

About every five years they preform a prescribed burn to keep the tall grass prairie acre healthy. Future plans are to build raised bed gardens, focusing on the three sisters traditional Native planting methods.

Katie Hashimoto, Supervisor of Energy and Environmental Conservation with the Grand Erie District School Board.

Katie is the Supervisor of Energy & Environmental Conservation with the Grand Erie District School Board. Katie graduated from Laurier and Nipissing University Brantford’s Concurrent Education Program with minors in History, English and Religion. Her role as the Environmental Officer involves energy monitoring and conservation, water regulation and conservation, coordinating waste (solid and hazardous), recycling, environmental education, school ground greening, and other environmental initiatives.

Katie presented on environmental education within the public school board and other opportunities for cross-curricular (esp. historical) involvement. A brief overview of the GEDSB’s Environmental Symposium and programs was also discussed. 

In her work with the GEDSB, Katie covers many topics in regards to environmentalism and sustainability, including energy reduction, solar generation, waste management, water conservation, school ground greening, and more.
The school in the board are outfitted with green products (with much research gone into custodial products that are safe to use), but all teachers, staff and students need to know how to properly use these resources. A great example of this is recycling. If people don't understand what goes where, or if bins are not placed alongside of garbage cans, then the green-ness of the school is affected.

All this environmental education is cross-curricular, and mandated, Ontario-wide. Find here grades 1-8, and grades 9-12.

Ontario EcoSchools: a K-12 program, which teachers/schools can enter into voluntarily. Twenty of GEDSB are certified. This self-assessed program has categories including Energy Conservation, Waste Management, School Ground Greening, Environmental Stewardship and Environmental Education.
To note for museums: field trips count towards this certification.

The Environmental Youth Symposium also offers museums a way to partner with school boards. In recent years, the Bell Homestead has participated with a workshop involving ideas surrounding "make do and mend", with accompanying activities (such as "re-glue the broken pot" and "sew up this shirt").

A helpful resource for environmental education teachers: Project Wild, from the Canadian Wildlide Federation.

Merri Fergusson, Education Program Supervisor and Lindsay Doren, Lead Historic Interpreter at the Museums of Mississauga

Merri Fergusson longs to own a heritage home, live off the land and preserve time honoured ways of doing everything!  Till then she works at the Museums of Mississauga as the Education Program Supervisor helping visitors connect their own experiences with the past and sometimes pretending she lives in Bradley House!

Lindsay is the Lead Historic Interpreter at the Museums of Mississauga.  She started with the Museum’s 4 years ago as a historic interpreter and has held a variety of roles there including Acting Collections Assistant.  She is a graduate of Fleming’s Museum Management & Curatorship program. Feel free to ask about her zombie apocalypse survival plan.
Merri and Lindsay presented a program at the Museums of Mississaugua which explores an early settler’s life to discover how they embraced ‘Reduce, Reuse & Recycle’.  This program offered to Overnight Groups meets some of the requirements of Guiding & Scouting badges.

An interesting activity that they have used is the "recycled shirt". Like a scavenger hunt, visitors are introduced to the idea of reuse: what would you do with a shirt that is beyond mending? What do you *currently* do with a shirt that needs mending? Throughout the house there are reuse example: aprons, dolls, potholder, braided rug.

Food is also part of this reuse activity. Some programming allows children to cook with "leftovers", making dishes such as soups and bread puddings.
Other resources which are reused: water, light, and even (theoretically!) urine. This factoid is a big hit with the small kids.

All these reuse examples spark discussion with the visitors as to what they do at home. Do you turn on lights during a sunny day? Reduce your water usage? Hang clothes up on a line to dry? Save and reuse leftover food?

A discussion followed all four presentations. Some resources mentioned:
Earth Day information and resources.
Carolinian Canada.
Brantford Water Festival.
Balls' Falls has an annual water festival.
Halton Water festival.