Students for Sustainability

limitless learning Nov 12, 2019

  1. The “SPARK”

A move towards more authentic, powerful learning often times requires a “spark”, and in the case of the Net-Zero Sustainability project, the spark for teacher Mark Schweitzer and co-leader Leslie Larson came in 3 parts: 

  • A presentation by Peter Gamwell, where educators were asked to think of their own story and what “extraordinary” thing they wanted to have happen in their classes.
  • Mark’s previous career as a scientist, where his passion for sustainability was fostered and grew into a passion to educate young people about the environment and environmental stewardship.

The moment this spark became “real” to Mark though, was when he was encouraged by his administration to apply for a Grant from Energy Efficiency Alberta, to look at ways to make their school more sustainable. Mark worked alongside his admin team to create the proposal, and was successful in winning the grant in early 2019. The purpose of this grant was to raise awareness of sustainability in a community, and for Mark, this was when he helped form a group of students in the school who were initially curious, and later passionate about learning about sustainability in schools. The grant specifically allowed for:

  • the funding of a classroom teacher for one period a day to focus on creating a sustainable school. 
  • the creation of a student group (Sustainable Solutions for Schools) which aimed to promote the project within the school. This group met during Learning Strategies (30min each day) to collaborate, brainstorm, trouble-shoot and plan the project. 
  • The hiring of outside experts, Carbon Busters (Zero carbon builders), who came to Strathmore High School to complete 4 separate workshops with students, in the areas of sustainability and renewable energy.  


Often, when teachers are looking for ways to create “deep learning” in students they intentionally look for ways to build a culture of thinking in their classes, where open-mindedness, critical thinking and persistence is encouraged and fostered through authentic tasks, tied to students passions. (

In Mark’s case, the goal of achieving a sustainable school, is the “authentic task” that students are engaged in; however, the “vision” behind the task is to take students passion for sustainability and build key competencies (creativity, communication, citizenship, critical thinking, and connecting and collaborating) that employers are currently seeking. This vision drives Mark’s actions, as he continually models to his students how important it is to push through roadblocks and failures, while keeping an open-mind and looking for potential solutions. 

Key Terms: 

  • Net-Zero: Producing as much energy as is consumed (on an annual cycle), which includes heating and electricity. 
  • Sustainable Solutions for Schools: Two environmental student groups in SHS coming together, under one name. 
  • Net-Zero: Student group learning how to create a Net-Zero school, which produces as much energy as it consumes, in the hope of creating a model that other schools and students can follow. 
  • Save our Roots: Student group that focuses on recycling and reducing waste in the school (plastic straws, recycling bin program within the school, potentially build a green-house). 
  1. The “LEARNING”: Authentic, Messy, Real

Since winning the first grant, the students within  SSS (Sustainable Solutions for Schools) have been driving the learning process. Throughout the process thus far, students have found their own passion for sustainability ignited, while encountering challenges brought forward in the pursuit of possibly achieving a Net-Zero school. They have developed key competencies alongside their peers, and have played to their strengths with guidance from their teacher, outside experts and partners.  

  1. The “ACTION PLAN”- Timeline of Progress

In the pursuit of achieving a more sustainable school, Mark, along with the students in SSS, have met with a number of key internal and external partners to better understand the roadblocks to achieving their goal. They have also worked tremendously hard to involve and educate their community on the benefits of sustainability in schools.  

Special thanks to the following partners for their expertise, and willingness to assist students in experiencing authentic learning, while fostering a desire to create a more sustainable world. 

Carbon Busters

4 workshops with students (each workshop focused on certain skills, and they were a huge influence in assisting students to understand net-zero design and energy efficiency.)

  1. Sustainability & Renewable Energy- how to do an energy audit, sharing essential tools with students to complete the audit. **Students reflected on utility bills (water, electricity, & sewer). Students took measurements to complete their own energy audit that they could compare to Carbon-Busters at the next workshop.
  2. Energy Audit Comparison- Carbon Busters conducted their own professional energy audit & encouraged students to shadow their experts while this happened. There was time to compare the students' results with their own and then Carbon Busters provided students with a comprehensive report on SHS’s building, which included heating/energy/water usage, as well as possible solutions that could be used to mitigate and make the building more energy efficient.)
  3. Q&A Presentation on the Comprehensive report: Carbon Busters presented their findings to Administration and students and time was given to brainstorm possible solutions together. They shared the Sketch-up software, which is used to build and design. They showed students how to complete energy models using the software. 
  4. Sketch Up Software & Project management skill development: This workshop is set to occur mid-November 2019. Carbon Busters will assist students in using the Sketch-up software and helping them to prioritize tasks moving forward with the project.  


Met with students in May 2019 as a potential Stakeholders meeting.

  • Stantec brought an Architect, Engineer, and 2 Senior Managers to SHS to listen to students and Mark discuss their Sustainability project. 
  • Stantec is interested in forming a mentorship program with students involved in the project, to have them work with their own professionals (lawyers, engineers, architects).

Town of Strathmore - (Town Council presentation David Levasseur, Lorraine Bauer)

Town council meeting in May 2019 - Students presented their Sustainability project to the Town of Strathmore representative.

  • There was a Q&A period following the presentation with Town Councilors
  • Following this presentation, students were put in contact with the town planner and infrastructure financial advisor to discuss possible future steps in the project

Golden Hills School Division- Tahra Sabir (Financial Services)

Tahra Sabir with Mark in regards to the financing of this project and cost benefit analysis using prior utility bills and projected project cost.

Energy Efficiency Alberta (Grant) 

Purpose of the Grant was to raise awareness of sustainability in a community, and how to increase energy efficiency.

Inside Education A+ for Energy (Grant) founding partner: BP 

Students researched a number of other possible grants to fund their Net Zero project.

  • They worked together to create a suitable grant proposal for the Inside Education’s grant.
  • This was students first exposure to raising money through grants, so they had to determine which grants applied to their project (critical thinking/ research skills), discuss and organize the writing of the proposal (Teacher modelling how to write grant proposals), seek feedback on their writing (students would go to their English teachers for feedback/critique). 
  • Students won this grant, and were able to purchase an intellimeter, which would help them monitor the energy consumption within their school. 



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