Earth-Friendly School Starting Small but Thinking Big!
The dedication plaque hanging near the front entrance to Cayley’s school states “In fall 2004 Cayley School’s Youth Environmental Stewardship (YES) program was developed. It fosters students who are life long leaders in Environmental Stewardship and engages them in real world learning experiences”
The southern Alberta prairie Hamlet of Cayley (at a population under 500 people is too small to be a town) is famous for its deep rooted ranching heritage, once housed the largest stockyards this side of Chicago and the biggest shipping point in the North West territories, also has a proud history of strong-will for keeping their education at home. According to the area’s history book, back in 1919 the town’s people faced a hardship of no high school and financial crisis at the prospect of sending their eighteen teenagers to board in neighbouring High River or Nanton. The parents banded together, persuaded the Village Council to let them use the Town Hall for free, the province of Alberta to supply some grant funds, and then hired and personally shared the $2000. cost of a teacher for the year. The success of the collective efforts that 1919 year showed all students passing and in 1920 a new two-storey three-roomed school was built keeping the families together, and confirming a solid town commitment to education.
Fast forward almost a century later to 2004 and the Cayley School now faced a serious dilemma with cuts to the funding grant for their school bussing program which transported in one third of their 140 student population. The impact of the news of a decline of students, coupled with the sense of loss around of the Town’s historic roots dwindling as the last remaining grain elevator was demolished, rallied the community and birthed the “Friends of Cayley” with a mandate to save the bussing and hosted a rewarding fundraising banquet and auction raising over $50,000., and saving the vital program.
With the bussing secured the school council, staff and parents, partnered in developing a revitalisation plan and have successfully put Cayley’s school back on the map in a big earth-friendly way. Starting small, but thinking big, this pre-kindergarten to grade eight school in the M.D. of Foothills, took on the initiative to become environmental stewards of the earth with a full commitment to air, land and water. Principal Bill Holmes, on board from the onset, is immensely proud of the collective energy working daily in his school both technology and people driven. For Holmes, “The initiative has been all about things falling in place, karma, hard work, and finding your place in the ecosystem.”
With an underlying commitment of going back to their roots, the staff and students initiated simple changes such as recycling in the classroom, outdoor classes, local identity of what’s-in-your-place based education, studies of water usage, science fair projects around energy, park and wildlife conservation presentations, and even small cost programs such as garbage analysis resulting in reducing the schools ecological footprint, much to the thrill of the custodian. Also a huge pride of the school, in true honour of their rural heritage, is the Strings Program, teaching K to 3 to play the violin.
Launching the Alberta Solar Showcase project in 2004, the school partnered with parents, educators and business, installing solar energy and wind turbine power, and today the award winning Environmental Stewardship Program has grown beyond all expectations, and is the foundation for all of the learning and green lifestyle in the school. By 2007, eleven education, industry and public partners worked collectively for a proud hard-working school now home to a solar system awning on the south-facing wall reducing overheating problems and producing electricity, and a horizontal-axis wind turbine providing renewable energy.
Many awards and accolades came with the hard work including Winner of the 2008 Calgary Educational Partnership Foundation’s Mayors’ Excellence Award for Multi-Sector Partnerships, Winner of the 2008 Alberta School Council’s Association Excellence in Learning Partnerships Award, and Semi-finalist of the 2008 Alberta Emerald Foundation’s Awards program for classroom projects and schools. Principal Bill Holmes was also honoured for an Alberta Education 2008 Excellence in Teaching Award, recognizing the innovative and outstanding teaching that takes place every day in classrooms across Alberta.
So what’s ahead for this progressive school with historic spirit? Over the next few years Cayley School, along with the community and the Municipal District of Foothills, will partner in the development and preservation of the wetlands on the north end of the Hamlet. In true school environmental stewardship spirit this “Wetlands Wonders” project will also include focus on the water and the wildlife in and around the wetland.
As Principal Holmes reminds the students often, “You will never be greater than the vision that guides you, so you have to think big!”