Vanier students try their hand at peeling garlic. Photo by Mike Chouinard

Vanier students try their hand at peeling garlic. Photo by Mike Chouinard

Comox Valley students learning about environment in their environment

New course at Vanier literally gets students out into field to learn about nature

This fall, many students in the community filled the streets in well-publicized climate strikes, along with their peers in communities all over the world.

Their passion was not a one-day event, but part of a commitment to re-imagining the ways we live. Because of recent changes in the provincial curriculum, this approach is informing practices in the classroom. This year, some Grade 11 students from G.P. Vanier Secondary are taking a new course, Environmental and Social Sciences, which combines some elements of geography and various scientific disciplines to interact directly with their environment.

The course includes trips to Courtenay Fish and Game Club, Deep Bay’s marine station, even Mt. Washington to consider cultural meanings behind the glacier. This is all a way to learn by seeing and doing, to look at how people are working within the local environment toward sustainability.

RELATED STORY: Large turnout for Cumberland climate strike

RELATED STORY: Courtenay climate strike draws hundreds to downtown core

In early October, they stopped by Amara Farm, operated by Arzeena Hamir, who also serves as a director on the Comox Valley Regional District, and her husband Neil Turner. Both have academic backgrounds in agriculture, but they wanted to put their knowledge to use at a farm.

Hamir started the tour giving the Vanier students an overview of how Amara operates.

“A big part of managing the farm is taking care of the soil,” she told the students.

The couple moved to the site about seven years earlier with an eye toward farming without chemicals and aiming to be as low-carbon as possible. Hamir talked about methods such as placing floating covers on crops to protect them from insects as opposed to using chemical controls.

“We have to keep track of everything we put on the farm,” she said. “It’s never the same day every day.”

The visit provided the students an opportunity to get their hands a little dirty by learning the basics of peeling and planting garlic.

Teachers Andrew Young and David Benton devised the new class, responding to the opportunities presented by the new, more flexible curriculum from the Province.

“It’s allowed us to do a cross- and co-curricular course,” says Young. “Kids can get a big picture idea of some of the environmental issues we confront…. It’s really about how we interact because we’re a part of nature.”

The class gets the students outside, which is all the more important when studying the ecosystem, and can sometimes, as in the visit to Amara, have the students exchange labour for knowledge.

“It’s through doing these actions that we’re going to remember it,” adds Benton.

The students seemed keen to get outside on the cold, clear morning. Zaphira Ey is a student who moved here from northern Alberta and has also lived in Gold River, so the Comox Valley feels like the big city. Still, there is plenty of nature around from which to learn.

“I’m really interested in the natural side of it,” she says. “I’m studying to be a marine biologist.”

Her family has a big acreage at home, so she is used to working on the land. She is also a competitive athlete, so she is aware of the importance of healthy food.

Another student, Chaya Mills, comes from Hornby Island and is familiar with farmers’ markets, so this is a chance to dig in when it comes to learning about food and nature.

“It makes me feel like I’m more involved,” she says. “It makes it feel so much more real.”

Mills sees this class as a chance to think about relevant questions and talk with her family as well as her classmates about environmental issues and what can be done.

“We talked a lot about solutions,” she adds.

The Environmental and Social Sciences course for Grade 11 students at Vanier is only one of the many things students, teachers and whole school communities are doing to incorporate the environment into classrooms and daily routines. Serina Allison oversees these kinds of initiatives for the district as its environmental outdoor learning (EOL) teacher.

“It’s a brand-new program,” she says. “It’s somewhat unique.”

She works with school communities, First Nations and other partners to look for ways to collaborate and support teachers. For example, students have undertaken activities with the Courtenay Fish and Game Club to replant the habitat.

“Most of us learn the best through doing,” she says. “Place-based education is a really big thing right now.”

Allison also points out this program fits in well with the school district’s new strategic plan, which has the environment as a major component.

RELATED STORY: Catchment review for Comox Valley Schools on horizon

She works with representatives at each school to lay out what the program should look like to tackle a lot of themes such as the climate crisis, global issues, Indigenous learning, water issues and so on. The work starts with hands-on things for youngest students and adds more leadership components as students move into higher grades.

Right now, there are many things happening through School District 71. For example, Allison says, there will be a youth conference through Isfeld Secondary in February to respond to the climate strike and what to do locally. As well, there will be professional development opportunities for teachers in line with this.

Other examples throughout School District 71 include nature-based education at Cumberland and a waste inventory project at Airport Elementary. One student at Vanier even came up with an idea for the school to replace single-use cutlery.

“Students are really, really engaged in it,” Allison says. “We’ve created change here.”

RELATED STORY: Comox Valley student aiming to cut out single-use plastics within the district and beyond

Students, teachers and administrators are all leading when it comes to responding to important challenges facing the environment, and taking steps beyond placards at a climate rally to consider how the school system can prepare people for the challenges we are facing now and in the future.

“We still have a lot of room for growth,” Allison adds.

For more information about the program, see

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here


Student Zaphira Ey (left) listens while Arzeena Hamir gives the class a tour of Amara Farm. Photo by Mike Chouinard

Student Zaphira Ey (left) listens while Arzeena Hamir gives the class a tour of Amara Farm. Photo by Mike Chouinard

Chaya Mills plants some garlic blubs. Photo by Mike Chouinard

Chaya Mills plants some garlic blubs. Photo by Mike Chouinard

Just Posted

The site of the King George Hotel in Cumberland. Photo by Mike Chouinard
VIU students research Cumberland’s past, future

Specific practicum topics were King George Hotel’s significance, densification incentives

Courtenay–Alberni MP Gord Johns says 12 million Canadians do not have dental insurance. Photo by Bofu Shaw, courtesy of Unsplash
Courtenay–Alberni MP, CDA consider dental care for all Canadians

Gord Johns has initiated a mail-out that asks constituents the date of… Continue reading

A 407 Squadron CP-140 Aurora, along with a Halifax-Class frigate enforce United Nations sanctions against North Korea in support of Op Neon in 2019. Canadian Forces photo/submitted
407 Squadron defends Canada for 80 years

The Comox-based squadron celebrating special anniversary

Jasmine Francoeur from Comox is an aviation technician for the Snowbirds air demonstration team. Photo by Canadian Forces/submitted
Comox’s Jasmine Francoeur’s career comes full circle with the Snowbirds

“To fly out here, fly into my hometown, it’s very special and I feel very lucky”

The school board is endorsing a national coalition for healthy food in schools. Screenshot, Comox Valley Schools
Comox Valley school board backs national healthy food initiative

Coalition for Healthy School Food wants federal government to invest in food program

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The following is a list of restaurants offering take-out and patio dining. ADOBE STOCK IMAGE
List of Comox Valley restaurants offering take-out, patio dining options

Restaurants in the Comox Valley continue to adapt to government-imposed restrictions in… Continue reading

A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to start releasing neighbourhood-specific COVID numbers after data leak

Documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun show cases broken down by neighbourhoods

Ladysmith RCMP safely escorted the black bear to the woods near Ladysmith Cemetary. (Town of Ladysmith/Facebook photo)
Black bear tranquillized, relocated after wandering around residential Ladysmith

A juvenile black bear was spotted near 2nd Avenue earlier Friday morning

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix update B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count creeps up, seven more deaths

445 people in hospital, 157 in intensive care

Summerland’s positive test rate is much higher than surrounding local health areas, according to internal BC CDC documents. (BC CDC)
Summerland 3rd behind Surrey, Abbotsford in daily per capita COVID-19 cases

Interior Health is rolling out additional vaccine availability to the community

Amazon is pausing its Prime Day marketing event in Canada this year amid ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at its facilities in Ontario. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Amazon Prime Day halted in Canada due to COVID-19 outbreaks in warehouses

The event was postponed to protect the health and safety of employees and customers, the company says

Ally Thomas, 12, seen in an undated family handout photo, died on April 14 from a suspected overdose. Her family says they are frustrated more public supports weren't available when they tried to get her help. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Minister says suspected overdose death of 12-year-old pushing B.C. to ‘do better’

Minister Sheila Malcolmson of Mental Health and Addictions says the government is working ‘as hard as we can’ to build a system of care for youths

Most Read