2022 Runner Up for Natural Curiosity's National Edward Burtynsky Award for Teaching Excellence in Environmental Education
Linda Ryan and Carmelina (Carm) Figliomeni-Crupi are the co-supervisors, and inseparable partners, of the Eco-Squad Environmental Club at Louise Arbour Secondary School. Their partnership has provided instrumental leadership and a model of teamwork to the students and community of Louise Arbour Secondary School in numerous school-wide initiatives and projects to broaden and deepen environmental education and stewardship that has grown through the years. Personally and professionally, both women have had an unwavering commitment to environmental education through curricular and extra-curricular activities with students and lead by example through their own habits and actions. They also strongly believe in connections with Indigenous communities to learn and to show students how to be responsible caretakers of the environment.
Through the longstanding Eco-Squad committee that Carm and Linda are staff sponsors for, students have concrete opportunities to be active in a wide variety of environmental initiatives. From organizing and engaging in the school’s recycling program, to educating peers about environmental issues, planting, watering, weeding, and harvesting vegetables, from developing native species gardens around the school, to creating sustainable and environmentally friendly products to sell, Carm and Linda create myriad opportunities for students to actively support the school community to move towards greater sustainability. Since the opening of Louise Arbour S.S. in 2010, Linda and Carm have coordinated building-wide practices that have allowed Louise Arbour S.S. to achieve EcoSchools’ Platinum Certification. This includes having students in the Eco-Squad demonstrate teamwork and leadership to facilitate recycling programs, regular waste audits and minimization programs, energy conservation, school greening efforts and instilling the importance of environmental stewardship among everyone in the school and local community. The programs and efforts of Linda and Carm and the students have been ongoing for more than a decade.
Both Linda and Carm are firm believers in a community-based approach to environment education and have been instrumental in creating relationships with the City of Brampton and through curriculum, have facilitated stewardship opportunities for LASS students to restore the wood lot in the local park, Batsman Park. They connect with eco-centered clubs in other schools for activities and events, and they have been the school leads for the Eco-Buzz Conference each time that Louise Arbour S.S. hosted this multi-school event. They have also arranged for students to attend a Roots and Shoots event to participate in a film screening and Q & A session with Dr. Jane Goodall. Not only do Linda and Carm coordinate a wealth of opportunities for Louise Arbour students to be part of a larger community of learners, they also support the annual Peel Children’s Water Festival by supporting Eco-Squad members to work at the Festival as mentors for elementary school festival participants. Furthermore, students have participated in environmental activities, like stream studies with a local organization, Eco-sparks, and collaborated with field environmentalists in a project to save turtles in the Heart Lake area by assisting the process of tracking turtles and creating areas that keep turtles safely away from vehicle traffic on roadways.
Linda and Carm have been key leaders in larger school projects, including the building and maintenance of an Indigenous garden and outdoor classroom that is shared by the school and the local community. Linda and Carm arranged for the Eco-Squad to meet with Indigenous Elders during the initial design-planning process, they purchased the plants for the garden from an Indigenous-owned greenhouse on the Six Nations territory, and they organized the Drumming and Blessing ceremony to dedicate this garden with Elders from the Peel Aboriginal Network. Linda and Carm’s have also organized the building of a greenhouse and native species gardens around the school that supply food to the school’s hospitality program. The Indigenous garden, the greenhouse, and the school gardens are continually maintained including during the summer months. Recently, students are also helping to maintain an indoor grow tower that helps to provide herbs and other greens to the hospitality program during the winter months.
Linda is the Acting Department Head of Science and under her leadership, the department has focused on embedding Indigenous ways of knowing and being into various parts of the science curriculum. In Grade 11 Biology, during their study of diversity, students investigate the principle of Etuaptmumk or “two-eyed seeing” by using both European and Indigenous perspectives in plant uses and classification. In Grade 11 Chemistry, during their study of solutions, students research the impacts of water contamination on First Nations communities and share their findings in discussion posts.
Linda and Carm both integrate environmental inquiry into the curriculum in their classroom. As a science teacher, Linda has ensured that students participate in real world activities. In the grade 9 and grade 10 science programs, Linda makes sure that students participate in annual stream studies with Eco Sparks so that they have a clear understanding of our interconnectedness between our actions and the health of our watershed. Linda also incorporates Indigenous teachings to enable students to have a clear understanding of our use of the land. This fall, she reached out to an Indigenous knowledge keeper, Joe Pitawanakwat, so that students in Grade 11 Biology could gain a greater understanding of how plants are not only critical to biodiversity of life on this planet, but specific plants have important purposes with Indigenous practice. She also has worked with the City of Brampton, and in conjunction with their 2040 vision, is enabling students to use their vision to restore Batsman’s Park, which contained Ash trees that were destroyed by the emerald ash borers. She has also worked with Metis Elder Kyle Morrison to help students understand the importance of the Credit Valley watershed and Kim Wheatley on the development of our outdoor classroom.
All of Carm and Linda's efforts during the school year and beyond have reflected their commitment to student engagement in learning about the environment and making tangible differences to improve environmental practices at Louise Arbour, in the Brampton community and beyond.