Durham Region honours Monsignor Leo Cleary with prestigious environmental award

Dec. 14, 2023

Durham Region has recognized Monsignor Leo Cleary Catholic Elementary School for being an environmental champion in the community. 

On Nov. 14, the 2023 Durham Environmental Achievement Awards, hosted by the Durham Environment and Climate Advisory Committee (DECAC), took place at the Ontario Tech University in Oshawa where Monsignor Leo Cleary Catholic Elementary School was honored with the John G. Goodwin Sustainable Group Award.

Photo of MLC students at Durham Environmental Awards

Established in 2003, these awards, named in honor of past environmental leaders, aim to commend outstanding environmental efforts in Durham Region across the public, private, and non-profit sectors. The program is designed to acknowledge endeavors that contribute to the promotion, preservation, and enhancement of the local environment. 

VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GSP4-g7Iv2o&ab_channel=IanKruis

During the 2022/23 school year, staff and students at Monsignor Leo Cleary CES researched, created, and completed multiple experiential learning projects including a recycling and compost program, a new greenhouse, a pollinator garden, a chicken coop, and a planted windbreak and privacy hedge.

These impactful initiatives, led by both students and staff, have had a lasting positive influence on student learning and the environment.

When applying for the award, principal Ian Kruis reached out to Dawn Michie, former Superintendent of Learning, Curriculum, Leadership and Human Resources to speak to the initiatives in a recommendation letter. “There is a completely different tone to the school community because of the focus on environmental education and sustainable stewardship,” reflects Michie. “Students are engaged and enthusiastic about learning about the natural environment and how to best protect it. These projects will have a lasting impact on the environment, long beyond the school career of the students who [participated].”

Ian Kruis with student Zachary assessing newly planted tree.

“Witnessing our students’ dedication in all of these environmental projects has been truly inspiring,” Kruis said. “Their proactive approach to environmental concerns not only enhances our school surroundings but has also gained recognition at the municipal level. This achievement is a testament to the positive impact of student-led initiatives, showcasing our commitment to a greener future.”

To learn more about each initiative, read the summaries below: 

Recycling and Compost Program The Environment Club spearheaded an initiative to promote the significance of the 4 R’s (refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle). Their mission began with students spreading awareness about proper recycling and composting practices. Starting initially in individual classrooms, the effort expanded to include bins strategically placed in all common areas throughout the school. Before this initiative, the school’s recycling efforts were limited to paper, but now, compost is collected and repurposed as livestock food by a nearby neighbor. The Environment Club diligently graded recycling boxes to ensure correct usage of all bins. As part of their eco-friendly endeavors, the club also introduced indoor plants to all classrooms, taking responsibility for their care. The collective efforts of the school community culminated in the prestigious achievement of receiving a Gold Award for Eco School, marking a significant milestone in the school’s commitment to environmental sustainability.
Greenhouse Seeding Program Students in Grade 6 and 7, supported by an experiential learning grant, collaboratively designed and built an 8’x10′ greenhouse. They explored horticulture and plant benefits through visits to local nurseries. In spring, all classes planted flowers and vegetables, taking them home afterward. One class went further, tending to three vegetable gardens for neighbors. The school also introduced a tower garden for growing lettuce and herbs, underscoring their commitment to hands-on education and environmental consciousness.
Pollinator Garden Students in Grade 5 took action by choosing a 30’ x 10’ feet area for a garden. They worked with a landscaping company to deliver a calculated amount of soil and each student planted and cared for their part of the garden with bulbs, perennials, and wildflowers that bees and butterflies like. In addition, students connected with Durham College instructor, Marlene Werry, who helped them make bee bath stations.
Chicken Coop Students in Grades 7 and 8 students pitched in to build a chicken coop, giving others the chance to learn about taking care of hens. All students got hands-on experience with eggs and hatching when they incubated chicks in spring 2023. Now, in fall 2023, some of those chicks have grown into hens laying their own eggs.

Students stay involved by volunteering to look after the chickens, feeding and cleaning at the coop. The chickens also play a role in our compost system, eating some of it and producing natural fertilizer for our gardens. 

Windbreak and Privacy Hedge Concerns about future housing construction behind the school yard led to a proactive decision to plant a cedar hedge along the property’s rear. Students in Grade 8 took charge, measuring the area and planting 125 cedar trees. Collaborating with a landscaping company, they secured donations of topsoil and mulch to ensure the trees’ survival. The cedars, along with the natural wild growth area, contribute to reducing greenhouse gasses.