Students like Michael He (left) and William Zhang from Walnut Grove Secondary School built bricks from recycled and discarded plastic bags. This is one of the many environmental projects facilitated by the school that helped WGSS win $20,000 in new technology through the Staples Superpower your School contest. (Special to the Langley Advance)

Enviro-minded students win $20,000 shopping spree for Langley school

Walnut Grove Secondary students and staff will start drafting their tech wishlist.

Out of 740 schools across Canada, one in Langley has been lauded and given loot for its environmental initiatives.

Walnut Grove Secondary students were given $20,000 in new tech equipment after being declared one of only 10 winning schools in the country in the 2018 Superpower Your School contest.

The secondary school has initiated a number of student-led environmental undertakings, including a bottle drive that raised money to install a water bottle filling station and cut down on plastic bottles. Now, there is a line up of students and teachers alike every break anxious to get their reusable bottles filled.

Likewise, the astronomy class lights are powered by solar panels, even on the dark winter days.

In a year-long research project, the science department has sent up four saltwater tanks that emulate ocean acidification and global warming.

But there’s one particular, multi-pronged environmental initiative that has spread beyond the school to the community, said principal Balan Moorthy.

It’s the students’ efforts to recycle more single-use plastics that proved fundamental in earning this school the title of “ecovators” and had them picked as a winner by Earth Day Canada and Staples Canada in their national contest and winners of a tech shopping spree.

This triumph will likely put laptops and a series of Wifi compatible projectors, wireless speakers, lights, and microphones into the school, Moorthy said. Staff and students are going to be getting together soon to help determine their wishlist for the $20,000 tech shopping spree.

But more importantly, it spotlights the accomplishments of the students.

“In Walnut Grove, we emphasize the importance of students teaching one another about the questions they have tried to answer regarding the environment,” said Grade 12 student Alicia Park, a member of the environmental club who spearheaded the application to Superpower Your School.

“Researching on their own and acquiring knowledge outside of the textbook ameliorates one’s understanding of the environment as it changes so quickly,” she said.

It started with science teacher Tim Stephenson, who designated a bin to collect the single-use plastics that were non-refundable.

“Many students were educated in the misuse of plastic, as they noticed that garbage, recycle, and compost bins were filled with the same materials,” Park explained.

The concept spread.

An explorations class at the school stopped using plastic coffee cup lids in their daily coffee purchases, the Green Team members gave a speech to the parent advisory committee and obtained several more water bottle filling stations in the school.

WGSS also invited the co-founder of The Plastic Bank to speak to students, and one of the kids was accepted to work as a junior project manager for the company – and together, a single-use plastic contest was held in the school.

But, again, the students weren’t content to rest on their laurels. Some potentially future engineers in the school sought to find out what they could do with all the plastic that was not refundable.

“After many experiments,Walnut Grove’s Engineering Club has created a machine where they press melted plastic bags into products that are used every day,” Park said in the application, noting that fellow students in the club are aiming to invent more products that can be sold to students, teachers and members of the community.

“Through the program, we’re able to see the incredible depth of eco-stewardship found in the Canadian character, particularly in our schools,” said David Boone, chief executive officer for Staples Canada.

“I’m thoroughly impressed and inspired by the initiative and passion shown by our young minds and members of the education community as they come up with ideas that have local impact and make the world a more livable, enjoyable place,” Boone concluded.

The school recently held a special surprise assembly attended by Langley Staples general manager Tony Stark, where they presented their prize, and celebrates the achievements of the school in the area of environmental education and stewardship.

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