Markham students becoming sustainability champions

More than 20 students from Milliken Mills High School recently became citizen scientists, thanks to the launch of GREEN (Global Rivers Environmental Education Network) in York Region. The program teaches young people about local watersheds and engages them in civic projects to improve their health. The students investigated the health of Bruce Creek, a tributary of the Rouge River watershed.

GREEN is General Motors’ (GM) signature watershed education program. For 28 years, the company has matched employees with students to wade into waterways, retrieve water samples and analyze them.

“General Motors is committed to youth-oriented action in sustainability through our GREEN program,” said Simon Guan, GM Canada senior environment officer, in a news release. “With a new GM facility in Markham, we are excited to partner with EcoSpark and Milliken Mills High School and be directly involved in supporting for student-driven sustainability projects in our newest community.”

Since 1996, the environmental charity, EcoSpark has connected people to their local environment through education, monitoring and stewardship.

“The GREEN program recognizes that youth have an important role in the current and future health of our watershed,” said Joyce Chau, EcoSpark executive director. “What attracted us to this program is the focus on long term impact where students are informed, engaged and empowered to take environmental action.”

And they couldn’t have picked a better school to partner with for the inaugural project.

As a platinum-certified Ontario EcoSchool (the highest possible certification), Milliken Mills is a model when it comes to being “green.” Their strong environmental program is anchored in an active Green Inc. Club; a “Specialist High Skills Major” program; and an award-winning alternative education program, TEAM (Teaching Esteem and Academics at Milliken.) Their activities include tree planting, habitat and trail restoration, growing local food on school grounds and eco-fairs that engage the entire student body and community.

“Milliken and EcoSpark have been environmental partners for four years,” says Chris Williams, head of personalized alternative education at the school. “Now, being part of GREEN provides a sustainability framework for all of our activities to increase our overall impact at the school and the community at large. This partnership will help set the direction for a multi-year approach at Milliken Mills to environmental activism and problem solving. This event is the first of many steps designed to empower students to develop solutions that address the health of local streams over the course the school year.”

The stream study did turn up one interesting find: a stonefly. Because they are extremely sensitive to pollution and die off quickly in unclean waters, biologists and fishermen use the presence of stoneflies as an indicator of how clean the water is in that area.

The last word goes to Shamar Brown, a student at Milliken Mills.

“I’m grateful to be involved in a real opportunity to bring students and environmental issues together to solve problems,” he said. “It gives us a voice and action in a crazy world.”

Photo courtesy of Milliken Mills High School

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