Jasper got a taste of what the Sustainability Club for Youth is made of June 14, during the group’s year-end gala at the train station.
It was the first time the club has presented in front of a hometown crowd, so Grade 11 student Joshua Scott took the opportunity to thank the community for its blind support in the club’s initiatives.
“It just blows us away how much you guys care about what we do, when you really don’t know about what we do,” he said. “There was around $10,000 donated to us by you guys, the community, and it just blows me and us away that we got $10,000 from a community that really, this is the first time we’ve talked to you guys about what we’ve talked about.”
Following Scott’s introduction and a few acoustic songs performed by Koh Okazaki, the club reenacted the presentation it gave at the Living Furure unConference in Portland, Ore. last month.
It was the students’ opportunity to finally share with the community their experience working with the provincial government on the new high school design.
The students fought to be involved in the process from the beginning because they dreamed of creating the most sustainable school possible. Initially the dream was to create a living building, rooted in its place with all of its energy and water collected naturally.
But that dream was quickly squashed by the provincial government.
“The mere mention of the term living building was perceived as being counter-productive,” Anagha Devkota told the crowd at the train station.
“Our government warned us that delaying the process to explore further sustainable design could potentially result in the government pulling funding and it would be our fault. This was a threat we took seriously and we continued to hear it repeatedly,” she said.
Following the threats and dismissal of the students’ idea of a living building, the club re-evaluated its goals and decided instead to fight for a net-zero school.
But by then there wasn’t enough time to find the funding necessary to purchase and install geothermal and solar systems.
So, ultimately, the students failed to see their vision come to life, but with that failure they’ve learned some important lessons.
“Looking back, the biggest mistake in the project was probably the serious lack of communication that happened between government officials, teachers and parents. Without an integrated design process, we were all left with different visions and going off on different paths,” said club member Cam Mahler. “This dizziness left us wondering why our ideas are not being incorporated into the design and, put bluntly, why the Alberta government did not care about, nor understand our ideas.
“We are confident that a more integrated approach would have generated more support for our vision.”
The students also learned that youth engagement is just a box to check, not a meaningful part of the design process. They said, this is a flaw that they want to see corrected.
“Our group feels that one way to make the leaders in our society more receptive to change is to do a better job incorporating the perspective of youth. We believe that young people possess something that many of those leaders lack, and that’s a belief that being idealistic can be a positive thing,” explained Brianna Bossio.
“Youth don’t focus on the barriers that a hardcore realistic has been conditioned to see. Instead of asking why, we ask why not?”
The presentation carried on to have Doug Matthews ask the audience to imagine what could be achieved if everyone engaged in sustainability with the same passion as the students.
“This is why we have decided to tell our story,” he said. “We hope to engage even more people. After all, stories are the basis for every human culture in some way and the only way to make a real difference is to change the current unsustainable culture we live by.”