Creator of the ECO Academy at Edward Milne Community School (EMCS), an immersive program that weaves together interdisciplinary learning through experiences, community building, and community service learning, integrating Indigenous ways of knowing throughout for a cohort of grade 9/10 students at EMCS in Sooke, British Columbia.
Patrick Gale has always had a keen interest and curiosity about learning in/with nature. Volunteering with the North Vancouver Outdoor School, participating in Katimavik, studying Environmental Sciences and Social Responsibility in addition to Environmental Sustainability Education at UBC, running garden education with Kidsafe, as well as teaching and developing award-winning healthy local food systems and garden-based education for twelve years in Canada's Arctic (Inuvik, NWT) and BC's Coast (Sooke, BC) - all of these experiences have played key roles in Patrick's growth toward becoming a passionate and active environmental educator.
Environmental education weaves together interdisciplinary learning through experiences, community building, and community service learning, integrating Indigenous ways of knowing. Through ECO Academy, learners collaborate to plan active positive impacts at various scales of systems. Individual, small group, class, school, and community-wide programs connect learners. From waste reduction, repurposing food waste to support student food security, working with local NGOs, farms, and community members to enhance local food growing, removing invasive species, (re)introducing native plants, and fundraising for local and international ecological causes through ethical sales and "pop-up thrift shops", students actively engage and connect through authentic experiences, fostering empowerment. Students also develop fundamental problem solving and curiosity skills to explore the world around them in new ways, observing, collecting data, and proposing innovative ways to address pressing societal and environmental issues. Students can then take on active roles in advocating for and embodying positive change.
Through ECO Academy, at least two-thirds of learning time takes place through experiences. Hands-on interdisciplinary collaborative learning happens in the kitchens, gardens, outdoor onsite learning places, and in nearby nature. The ECO Academy connects with local First Nations role models, NGOs, farmers, and community members to explore topics such as seed saving, pollinators, ethnobotany, salmon cultural ecology, clam gardens, invasive species removals, habitat restoration, healthy local food systems, and social enterprise. Learners develop observational skills to use in field practice, exploring ecosystems to identify species and relationships between organisms, climate, nutrients, water cycles, and more. Learners also work together to address areas they have identified as having priority such as student food security and food waste through garden clubs, free community meals, and cooking lessons. Learners then connect these skills to life outside of school by volunteering in the community, often developing their own projects. For example, some students help with Elders' gardens, volunteer with Surfrider for beach clean-ups, remove scotch broom with community groups, and help out with the food bank.
At ECO Academy, educators and students try to balance awareness of large ecological issues with active hope through individual and collective actions. ECO Academy merges learning outcomes from Food Studies, Sciences, Sustainability, Careers, and Intro to Ecoliteracy (a new course developed by Patrick). Patrick partners learners with local groups such as Transition Town Sooke, Sooke Rotary, Charters Hatchery, Sooke Food CHI, Aboriginal Education, Compost Education, Loughbrunner Community Farm, SunRiver Gardens, and others. Science outcomes are interwoven with Indigenous perspectives, as are concepts in food studies and sustainability. They often work with local Elders to provide a more authentic and locally focused context. Again, Science and Food studies concepts are used in designing, running, and reflecting upon individual, group, school, and community-based "sustainability challenges".
Patrick shares with us that, in their practice as an educator, Patrick tries to help learners grow awareness of important issues and the relationships between those issues, ourselves, ecosystems, cultures, and communities. As the communities of ECO Academy learn together, students begin to explore ways in which their individual and collective actions can and then do contribute to important positive changes. Each student develops individual action challenges which they then execute, track, report, and reflect back on. Students and educators work together to form collective goals and track their positive shared impacts. Learners also make active positive contributions to the greater school and local community through community service learning. Patrick tells us that this empowerment, advocacy, and action often carry over into the lives of students and families for years to come. These actions help create positive relationships and actions within the community, as some learners begin to grow through active community leadership, citizenship, and stewardship roles. In school, some student-led projects this year include a student garden group to support local family food security, an in-school seed library and seed saving program, a new Indigenous plant garden, and many others. Connecting with learners as they share their actions and passions for positive change has been inspiring for Patrick, and Patrick looks forward to continuing to share this learning with their communities and networks.
Weaving together the four branches of environmental inquiry along with learning outcomes from a breadth of curricular areas enriched student learning. I try to embody my beliefs in my daily practice; noticing the new in the every day, taking an ecological and ethical approach to day-to-day decision making, and reflecting upon my own journey and practice, and where others were, are, and could be going on their paths. How do these fit together through the networks and places of learning and being?
- Patrick Gale, ECO Academy, Edward Milne Community School