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Inspiring a generation to go green

April 10, 2013
Steph James, Lindsey Martini and Susan Kerr

A group of Grade 7 Dunsmuir Middle School students gathers around a car in Colwood Coun. Judith Cullington’s driveway.

“This is my car, and I want you to find the tailpipe on it,” Cullington says to the students. Some giggle nervously, while others peek around the back of the car and look perplexed.

“There isn’t one,” a girl asserts. “It’s electric!” a boy adds.

Cullington then offers students the opportunity to plug in her car and “fill it up.” The youth ask a range of questions and walk away with greater knowledge of electric vehicles than many people who are old enough to drive. They continue on to visit different stations around Cullington’s home to learn about green technology from people with Solar Colwood, a municipal green energy program. The students learn about the solar panel pathfinder, which determines the sunniest place to position panels, and get a look at the panels on Cullington’s roof. They’re also introduced to a blower door fan and a thermal imaging camera that identify air leakages in the home. To add to the fun, the kids have their photo taken with the camera to see who has the coldest nose.

“We bring the kids in so they can see and touch the smart home technology and they can ask questions,” says Royal Roads MA in Interdisciplinary Studies student Susan Kerr, who designed the three-day environmental education program that starts with a fieldtrip to Cullington’s home.

Kerr, who also works in the university’s Office of Sustainability, developed the experiential education program as part of the university’s Solar Colwood research, which is funded by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions. On the second day of the program, the students discuss what they saw at Cullington’s house and what they can do to save energy in their homes. Day three focuses on water conservation and an activity called Making a Meaningful Connection.

“I want to introduce them to the idea that to make a difference, you have to have a personal connection, an emotional connection to something that means a lot to you and makes you want to conserve it, protect it, maintain it, or even just enjoy it without exploitation,” says Kerr, who’s running the program for the third time. “The students really start thinking. They take ownership of it.”

Kerr is hoping students will take home what they learn and share their knowledge with their parents, possibly inspiring them to participate in Solar Colwood, which offers green energy solutions along with financing and incentives for homeowners and businesses. Kerr is also working with four Bachelor of Science students, who are assessing the impact of the program and making recommendations to improve it. After shadowing Kerr, the BSc students will deliver the program themselves to another group of Dunsmuir students. The BSc students says they’re excited – and a little nervous – to lead the program, which is one they believe in.

“We’re looking at renewable energies and it makes sense to get the younger generations involved because they’re getting an understanding of it at a young age and they’re going to want to engage in sustainable activities,” says BSc student Lindsey Martini. “Hopefully it’s successful in transferring that knowledge to the parents.”

“I think a lot of it has to do with empowerment of youth, giving them the knowledge and the tools that they need to make sustainable choices,” adds teammate Steph James. “Everything I brought home from learning at school influenced my mom’s purchasing power and her consumer patterns. Hopefully, we’ll be able to transfer knowledge that really has an impact on students so they’ll take it home and tell their parents about and their parents will talk to their friends and it will create a network.”

Cullington says she enjoys opening her home for tours, especially for young people, and being a part of people’s learning.

“The kids get it,” she says. “They don’t say, ‘It’s too expensive. It’s not worthwhile. Climate change is not real.’ They say, ‘This is important!’ They’re going to be decision-makers in homes not that far down the road, so we want to help them think about the choices they’ll get to make. I hope they will go home and tell their families about Solar Colwood and what we’re doing in this community and hopefully feel proud of it.”