SEN Hero

Sister O'Brien School:
The Mikki Jacobson Viriditas Project

One Saskatoon Elementary School's inspiring transformation, guided by the "Greening Power of God"

Artur is a Grade 6 student at Sister O'Brien elementary school in North-East Saskatoon, and a local expert in recycling. "I go into classes and ask teachers if they need help sorting out which stuff goes where, and then to take it down to the Viriditas hallway. The Viriditas Hallway is the hub of the recycling activity in Sister O'brien School, a school that is setting an ambitious standard for how to walk the talk on ecological and social issues. The school has incorporated an inspiring array of social and environmental projects that help the school community to take ownership over their role as stewards of the planet. Projects include:

Part of the idea of sustainability is recognizing that we are affluent, we have what we need and others don't, and that we need to share the resources that we have.

Kendra Chubb

posterThe term Viriditas comes from medieval mystic Hildegard von Bingen, and it means "greening power of God." The Viriditas program has been started as a dedication to Mikki Jakobsen, a former school librarian and passionate environmentalist who passed away with cancer in 1999. According to the school website the goal of the project is to model a lifestyle for students, their families and the community, which is more sustainable and thus healthier for the environment. For Kendra Chubb, Grade One teacher and one of the catalysts in the Viriditas project, this program is a powerful teaching tool for developing leadership and responsibility among students and parents. According to Chubb, the idea of the greening power of God in our school comes from the catholic concept that we are called to be stewards of the earth in every way possible, physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally.

Students at different age levels participate in different aspects of the program. Some help coordinate the recycling, some do energy monitoring (putting tags on classroom doors for classes who don't turn out the lights or turn down the heat at recess and lunch), some help with making food in the solar oven. For Chubb the project instills positive self-esteem, cooperation, and teamwork by putting students in leadership roles to help make it happen. Artur is a good example, as an expert in recycling, he has become a role model for other kids I feel good when I help because I am helping the environment, helping animals, and influencing other kids not to just throw stuff, yesterday I found a bunch of white paper in the coloured paper bin in the Viriditas hallway

The key to the success of the project, according to Kendra, has been to get as many people involved as possible. The work can't fall on the shoulders of one person or one group, it has to be everyone involved otherwise people lose motivation. Getting all staff on board and having all kids involved is necessary, so that we lead by example. Recently, this has spilled over to the parents also. Parents started coming to the school saying 'my kids want to take our eggshells to school for worm composting, what's going on?' Now parents have become very involved in Viriditas, and are sharing the load of the work. Once every two weeks a parent comes and takes the recycling to SARCAN, and parents volunteer in the mornings to work the solar ovens for making snacks and cider for the students. According to Chubb parent involvement has had a great impact, it has helped share the weight and distribute a sense of ownership over the program.

Viriditas has incorporated a sense of social responsibility into the project as well. They bring in students' extra clothing and donate it to the Share the Warmth program, a SaskEnergy initiative to share warm clothing with those with fewer resources to buy it. They also have a program called moo-juice for CHEP, which involves kids donating their milk money so that a child in a family with little money can have milk. For Kendra part of the idea of sustainability is recognizing that we are affluent, we have what we need and others don't, and that we need to share the resources that we have.

Sister O'Brien is more than happy to work with other schools who want to develop programs like the Mikki Jakobsen Viriditas project. If you want more information about the project call Ted View at (306) 659-7480.