A commitment to programs that embody the values of education for sustainable development has earned Saskatoon Public Schools recognition as the recipient of a provincial Education for Sustainable Development award.
The award, presented by the Regional Centre of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development in Saskatchewan, honours organizations and individuals who have made innovative achievements in education that build capacity for sustainable development in the province and contribute to the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.
"This award recognizes Saskatoon Public Schools' ongoing commitment to education for sustainable development and the contributions made by dozens of teachers who have worked during the past two decades to provide place-based education that engages and inspires students," said Samantha Gunn, educational consultant for the school division's Brightwater Science, Environmental, and Indigenous Learning Centre.
Creation of the Outdoor School Program in 1997 was the launchpad for Saskatoon Public Schools' work and practice around education for sustainable development. That model has since expanded to include programs that provide interdisciplinary, place-based programs at different grade levels and in a variety of contexts in order to help students develop independence, responsibility, and respect.
Unique programs that provide social and environmental education within the school division are Outdoor School for Grade 11 students, Collective Voice and Off the Grid for Grade 9, and the Let's Lead—Nīkānētān, ScienceTrek and Ecoquest programs for Grade 8 students. The division's Brightwater centre and other initiatives play key roles in supporting and facilitating programming within all division schools and the wider community.
"These programs have impacted thousands of school students over the past 20-plus years," said Gunn, a former Outdoor School teacher. "The impact is so far-reaching that it is impossible to measure. It has influenced individuals to take action and pursue careers related to all of the goals of education for sustainable development and has resulted in a critical analysis of the spatial, temporal, and conceptual organization of formal education in Saskatoon.
"The immediate target audience is Saskatoon Public School students, but the impact of these programs often extends to family and community involvement."
The programs are designed to engage learners in unique environments. They embody an interdisciplinary approach to education and the power of place-based learning and attention to economic, social, cultural and environmental sustainability are at the centre. Students, in turn, apply their learning to their personal, home and community life.
"It is critical that formal kindergarten to Grade 12 education focus on preparing individuals with the knowledge, understanding and skills to sustain the well-being of all," Gunn said.
"We expect this model for education will continue to inspire the formation of new programs in Saskatoon Public, and across the province. Presently in our province, there is a focus on strategies to pursue education for social and environmental sustainability and this model for formal education offers a path forward."