I ATTENDED Belfountain Public School from Grade 1 to 8. With four classrooms and a gymnasium, it was a considerable step up from the one-room schoolhouses where my older siblings learned their three Rs. Nonetheless, a product of educational wisdom in 1960s Ontario, the schoolyard was devoid of vegetation and we were more apt to study distant polar bears than nearby Jefferson salamanders.

Finally, that’s changing. Learning about the environment, especially the local environment, is now front and centre at the Belfountain Public School (BPS) thanks to some enlightened parents and a willing staff. The schoolyard has been naturalized, and students plant vegetables each spring and help release Atlantic salmon into the Credit River.

As a result, my alma mater just received the Edward Burtynsky Award for its contribution to environmental education from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, and the Outstanding K-12 award at the 2010 annual national conference for Environmental Education and Communication. Not bad for a rural school (now eight classrooms) in a village of less than 300 people.

Fortunately, other educational institutions and programs are following suit. As our fourth annual environmental education issue demonstrates, things have come a long way – though not far enough for Kate Davies. She writes that environmental education is old hat; we need to take the next evolutionary step toward a “learning society.” That requires fundamentally reforming our education system, so that students are taught the “sustainability literacy skills” they will need to recognize the world’s environmental problems and effectively cope with them in the 21st century.

Several of our authors describe the lasting impact of courses and programs that take place in the real world. Some lucky students are helping to construct eco-buildings, install energy-efficiency measures, create and teach their own university courses, and solve groundwater contamination concerns. The result is that young adults, such as 20-year-old Clara Luke, the winner of the Copenhagen Legacy Essay Scholarship, have some pretty sophisticated ideas about what needs to be done to achieve a more sustainable world.

We have revamped our environmental educational directory, presenting it as a table that will be useful for anyone interested in opportunities at the university level. With dozens of schools now offering programs, there is more choice than ever. At the University of Waterloo, it’s noteworthy that the environment faculty is the fastest growing school on campus.

As the media sponsor for Earth Day Canada’s Hometown Hero awards, we tell the amazing stories of each year’s winners. In this issue, we profile Heather MacFadyen from Canmore, Alberta, the 2010 individual winner, and Toronto’s GreenHere, which took home the same honour in the group category.

I also spent almost two hours with the well-deserved recipient of Earth Day Canada’s 2010 Outstanding Commitment to the Environment Award. A snippet of the free-ranging discussion I had with one of my idols, singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn, rounds out our Earth Day Canada coverage.

Cockburn’s “If A Tree Falls” is an iconic environmental anthem. Given the growing number of Canadians now receiving an environmental education, there will be less need in the future to listen for a forest falling.

Nicola Ross is the former Editor of Alternatives Journal, and is a member of the editorial board.

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