Environmental Activism & English Language Learning in Adult High School

Adults students in a classroom working on a movie.

Students in the Central Orientation Class at Adult HS spent weeks completing an environmental audit for the school.  They were shocked by their findings. This ignited in students a desire to bring school wide awareness to the issue, inform their peers about initial steps to be taken to solve the issue, and begin creating the conditions to reduce the footprint of environmental impact at the school. 

There was one challenge: the students in the Central Orientation Class at Adult HS are New Canadians, English Language Learners, all of whom speak different first languages, and are only beginning to express themselves and their formal schooling in English.  

Kristin Douglas and Philip Crichton have been using experiential learning in their classes to anchor the classroom in authentic problems, and workable solutions.  What their students lack in formal education they make up for in vast experience, incomparable enthusiasm, and an intuitive drive to act. The authenticity of a research project tallying the recyclable material in the school and then graphing their results as a place to begin communicating with their peers about the need for environmental action offered a seamless approach to literacy and numeracy. 

Students began making videos about environmentalism as a way to communicate their findings, their solutions, and their desire to protect the earth.  This is where Jesse Card and Ben Bergeron brought their background in filmmaking and storytelling to support students communicate their messages more powerfully.

Youth Ottawa’s (@Youth_Ottawa) Youth Active Media (YAM) brings industry mentoring to students in the process of developing their own voice and sharing it through an increasingly important medium – film.  Supporting students to develop their story through storyboarding, framing, lighting, sound, and editing the end result is a message fit for the 21st century. 

With the Central Orientation Class at Adult HS the power of communicating with film using the tools available in their mobile phones, provides a unique and powerful means to capturing their voice and experience in a context where language is developing, and a barrier to expression.   The team from Youth Ottawa worked with students to develop movie vocabulary, filming techniques, editing techniques, and the influence of music and sound creation in presenting a powerful message. Over the six days of learning students ignored the bells for the work they were producing. 

The finished PSAs covered a variety of topics like Bring Your Own Grocery Bag, Say NO To Straws, and Use a Refillable Water Bottles. 

Douglas and Crichton were excited to see their students connect the data we had found in school to overall concepts of environmentalism. According to Chricthon, “It was amazing that YAM enabled our ELLs to express themselves and their ideas in such a creative and engaging way.” 

The work culminated in premiering the movies, eating popcorn, and celebrating the accomplishments projected onto a screen; a screen that, for the first time, contained content the students created.

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