A special Earth Hour at St. Rita Catholic Elementary School

By Laureen Farnam
At 12:30 p.m., just after lunch as children were settling in for an afternoon filled with learning, exploration and hard work, the lights went out.
This is not the first time St. Rita students and staff, with the encouragement of Principal Tim Slack, have joined together as a school community to show their support for the environment or WWF Canada. There have been many initiatives for the environment. Children are always keen to show they care and help in any way they can. The three Rs are embraced. There are: composting, boomerang lunches, GOOS (good on one side!) paper reuse, stainless steel water bottles with the school’s sports teams’ logo and National Sweater Day was even celebrated this year!

In fact, for several years now the lights have gone out for Earth Hour at school. Typically, those 60 minutes go by without much notice. The lack of light from electricity allows the natural light to shine through the windows and doors of the school wherever it can reach and there is a nice sense of calm throughout the space.
This year was a little bit different. Sure, there was natural light, but the calm was sprinkled with the excitement that came from a visit from some *very* special guests and a LOT of the natural “light” was coming from the children themselves! Oh yes, the light of awareness and beaming with pride produces an energy source all of its own.

On Friday members of WWF-Canada’s very enthusiastic Ottawa team – including Panda – kindly came to St. Rita to talk about Earth Hour with the Eco Squad. The Eco Squad is a team of students (under the guidance of Educational Assistant, Leah Taylor) with a special interest in caring for the environment and encouraging their school mates to make choices that better serve to keep our planet alive and well.
It was so wonderful that WWF Canada was able to come and speak to the children! They were excited to talk to real people who work to help our planet everyday. The presentation given by Ximena Salcedo was excellent and when she asked questions of the children about Earth Hour or why and how it came to be, she received answers that – for a moment – appeared to catch her by surprise. These kids know why WWF Canada does these things. They know and they can eloquently articulate just *exactly* why a seemingly simple act of switching off the lights can start a global awareness campaign that continues to grow with each passing year.
The Eco Squad was excited to get lots of Panda hugs, too! They happily squeezed Panda and had a picture (or 10!) taken and were very generously given some nice WWF “goodies” to help spread the messages of reducing and reversing climate change. Afterwards, this small group went back to their classrooms and then the most amazing thing happened!

Panda (and the WWF Canada team!) visited every single classroom in the school! What a sight to see a Giant Panda walking through the hallways of our school! I was every bit as excited about this as the children. In each class Ximena reminded the students about Earth Hour on Saturday at 8:30 p.m., asked a question or two about what children would be doing and mentioned the special Earth Hour event at The Canadian Science and Technology Museum. The children shared the ways they celebrated Earth Hour with their families and every child was given a WWF temporary tattoo before Panda moved on to the next classroom.
It was a very successful event for our school and more importantly our planet. I believe the children will always remember the visit from Panda and the WWF Canada Ottawa team. The temporary tattoo with WWF’s very familiar Panda will fade in a few days, but the permanent impression that was made during Panda’s visit will last forever.