Students Accelerating Action: Captain Nichola Goddard School Green Commuting Challenge
Captain Nichola Goddard School in northwest Calgary was built for grades 5 to 9 as a community school, meaning that none of its students had to bus in from outside its catchment area. But despite the fact that nearly all the students lived within two kilometers, many of them were still being driven by their parents. Since the school wasn’t built with motor traffic in mind, it was plagued with congestion, unsafe driving, idling cars and stressed students late for class.
A group of students and teachers at the school decided to change the way students got there. From this, the Green Commuting Challenge was born. The program incentivized walking and cycling for students. It combines teaching students about their ecological footprint with a reward system for those who walk or bike to and from school, including prizes, such as pizza and movie tickets. The challenge makes it clear that everyone can participate and aim for a reward, not just the most devoted human-powered commuters.
The program also makes it easier for younger students to participate, with “Green Commuting Hubs” – places around the community where students meet to walk together under the supervision of a Grade 9 student. By having older students direct and promote the project, the team was able to take advantage of relationships that already existed between students.
“As teachers, we can say things until we’re blue in the face, but students won’t make lifestyle changes because of what we tell them. They’ll make lifestyle changes because of what their peers tell them,” said Debbie Rheinstein, one of the teachers behind the program.
The program is wildly successful. Five years after its inception, Rheinstein saw students approaching staff at the beginning of the year asking about being involved before the Challenge was even advertised to them. It had become a part of the student culture at Nichola Goddard.
Much of the Green Commuting Challenge is administered by a group of Grade 9 students called the Green Commuting Leadership Team. In addition to planning, participating in and presenting the program at the Calgary Mayor’s Environment Expo, these students are instrumental in spreading the culture of environmentalism throughout the school.
Students grew the program among their peers and also among their teachers. They started, “car-free days,” to challenge teachers to join the Green Community Challenge. Rheinstein jokes the teachers felt peer-pressured by the students.
This initiative was successful because of the engagement and leadership of the students at the school. They took a small program and grew it into school-wide action, showcasing the tremendous impact students can have on the community around them.