It isn’t likely that many people in Calgary have heard of Devereax Elementary School in the small community of Arras, just west of Dawson Creek, British Columbia, but that didn’t stop the folks from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) and a handful of their member companies from stopping by last week.
The reason for their visit was Energy in Action, a CAPP program that travels across Western Canada every spring to teach elementary school students about energy, natural resources and sustainability.
“Energy in Action likes to come to the Northeast B.C. region,” said Kim Gray of CAPP.
Last year, the program made stops in Dawson Creek and Farmington.
“We have a really good relationship with School District 59,” Gray continued. “Their facilities crew has been out today to prep this site. We’ve worked with them for the past two or three years and they’ve been instrumental in making these projects work. So, because of our relationship with SD59, I think that it was just a great opportunity for us to get out to Devereaux and to bring a program here.”
The day began in the classroom with the students learning about renewable and nonrenewable natural resources with Inside Education.
“We had fun in the classroom by growing a forest in the classroom,” said Rachel Hofman, a natural resources educator with Inside Education. “And we looked at what trees need to live.
“And we looked at the process of hydraulic fracturing,” she continued. “And then we finished up the presentation with stewardship. So, we really focused on how the kids can be stewards of their natural resources and what they can do in their every day lives to take care of their natural resources and the environment.”
Hofman and her colleague also shared the stage with Andrew Stiles, a bird expert from Calgary, who taught the students about the wildlife that might be using the bird boxes they built later in the morning.
Stiles was impressed with the diversity of habitat and associated bird species in the neighbourhood of the school.
“Having him there [is] a really good addition,” Hofman said of Stiles, “because he talks about birds and how kids can be stewards of birds and bird habitat and things like that. And so I think it’s a really good complement.
“They were fantastic kids,” she added. “We had so much fun.”
Principal Wanda McIntyre thought Energy in Action was a perfect fit for reinforcing the values that the school is trying to impress upon its students.
“What we want to create is critical thinkers,” she said. “And that’s what we value in our students. And so when you’re dealing with any ideas or concepts or situations or issues, we want them to have a perspective – many perspectives – on it. So, that’s the way we’re viewing this. It’s like an opportunity to meet some new people and to have their perspective presented to the kids.”
McIntyre was impressed with Inside Education as well.
“The teachers are excellent teachers,” she raved. “And they have the kids engaged in a way that keeps them on task and interested in the topics, which are hard topics.
“These kids care very much about the earth,” she continued. “And it seems like there’s a lot of anxiety with kids around the things that they see happening. And so to have them get some answers or some information shared, then we take that information and we do with it what we want after.”
The students at Devereaux Elementary have shown their passion for environmental protection through recycling at school and developing initiatives such as their litterless lunch.
“They’re thinking always about how we’re going to reduce and not be such consumers,” said McIntyre.
“What we want [is for] the kids to realize that there’s ways that you can balance,” she continued. “Just to let them know that there are people with different wants and needs than they have, too. And then how do we all balance that? And what is best for the earth? What is best for the community? And sometimes it takes a lot of hard discussions, but the main thing is that you’re knowledgeable.”
The students are very aware of energy sector activity, said McIntyre, because of pipelines running through their property and the presence of other exploration and development infrastructure in their community.
“They’ve got concerns [and] they’re very open and honest about [them],” she added.
That is largely why McIntyre felt Energy in Action wasn’t just a learning opportunity for the students, but also an opportunity for the energy company representatives to learn from the students.
“The kids understand more than adults think,” she said. “They’re just not able to communicate it as clearly. But their fear is that they have to take care of the earth and they feel like maybe not such a good job has been done or is being done.”
Encana’s Brian Lieverse saw plenty of value in talking to the children about natural resources and their concerns about their development.
“If you aren’t learning something from these kids, then you’re not paying attention.,” said Lieverse. “So, it was great to talk to them, great to get some of their feedback and what they see our industry is about.
“Any time we’re talking to the community, whether it’s kids or adults, we should always be taking something back,” he continued.
“Things that they like about what we’re doing. Maybe things that we need to do a better job of. We can always communicate better with the communities. So, this was a good chance for us to talk to the young people, because they’re a reflection, quite often, of what the community thinks. They’re so open. They’re always willing to tell you what they think.”
Encana was just one of eight energy sector companies that participated in the event at Devereaux Elementary, a group that also included Murphy Oil, ARC Resources, Huron Energy, Canadian Natural Resources, Birchcliff Energy, ConocoPhillips and Champion Technologies.
“The eight companies that are here today have all been really involved with us from the get go in bringing people out and bringing volunteers here,” said Gray.
“It means an enormous amount to have the company involvement here.”
“Encana’s active in the area around the school,” said Lieverse, explaining his company’s reason for choosing to lead the energy sector team for the event.
“And we’d been partnering with them already a little bit on a few projects. We helped them out with some computers. And we thought it would be a great spot to do Energy in Action. It’s a great program that introduces the community to some of what our job is and what our work is out in the oil and gas industry. So, we thought this would just be a great school, a great time to partner with them.”
For Hofman, the collaboration between the school and the school district, the energy companies, CAPP and Inside Education really stood out as a positive element of the program.
“I think it’s a fantastic collaboration,” she said. “It gets the students really excited about participating in stewardship activities like in the afternoon. It gets the [industry] involved with the students that live in the community. And it gets the students exposure to a presentation that talks about natural resources and stewardship. So, I think on all facets it’s kind of a good situation.”
“I think it’s important for us all to work together,” added Lieverse. “Education is a big process. Developing the young minds is a big process. And it’s a chance for us to share together and to work together. It’s also a chance for us to learn from the young kids. So often we go off and we get into our own world and the big world of business and we don’t always get a chance to talk and listen to the kids. So, this is a great chance to come back and meet with the kids and listen to them and to hear what they say.”
That collaboration seems to be especially important when it comes to tackling an initiative such as building an outdoor classroom, which was one of the afternoon projects at Devereaux Elementary.
The volunteers were helping the students transplant native trees, shrubs and flowers, as well as installing benches.
“The district has put in the funds for the cement, the manpower to put that all together,” said McIntyre, suggesting that the grounds maintenance staff will initially be responsible for maintaining the plants in the outdoor classroom, but that some of that work may pass onto the students when the new school year starts in September.
McIntyre certainly believes the outdoor classroom will be a great addition to the school.
“These kids are really neat kids,” she said. “They’re outside – they want to be outside – all the time. It doesn’t matter how cold it is.
“They’re very outdoorsy kids.”
Grade 6 student Faith Webster corroborated that statement.
“My favourite part has probably been building the birdhouses,” said Webster. “And we’re going to put some up around the school. And then we can check on them and see if any birds came.
“I think it’s a really good program,” she added, “and that kids everywhere should learn it. Because energy is important and we have to learn that we have to save it. And save our planet. Because we share it with animals and other creatures.”