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Getting Green with École Dickinsfield

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“I LIKE WORMS. They’re so gushy!” says one of École Dickinsfield School’s student Wormologists. Red Wiggler Worms are hard at work, with 14,000 of them active in plastic tubs in eight classrooms and in a large composting center. They digest seven gallons of apple cores and banana peels weekly from children’s lunches. Grade 1 to 6 student Wormologists feed and care for them, as the worms create nutrient-rich compost that helps vegetables grow in the school’s new garden.

Or, as Grade 3 Wormologist Max says, “Our worms help us out. Now there is less garbage.” École Dickinsfield School is a city leader in vermicomposting, just one of many ways it embraces all 4 Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot.


Students have recycled juice boxes for nearly two decades, donating the funds to dozens of charitable organizations. For several years teacher Monique Boily and her student Recycling Leaders gathered the school’s waste paper, stuffed it into her car and dropped it off at recycling depots. Since curbside recycling pick-up began, they have finally been able to recycle all the school’s paper, cardboard and plastic, filling an average of five bins each week.

Reduce and Reuse

The school has joined the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo’s efforts to reduce waste entering the landfill by 50 per cent. When the Single Use Shopping Bag Bylaw was enacted in 2010, teacher Kitty Cochrane received a grant from BP Energy’s A+ For Energy program to help the school learn about the problems with plastic waste. She wore The Bag Monster, a body suit with 500 plastic bags taped on it, to show how many bags North Americans throw away every year. Students distributed hundreds of high-quality reusable bags to families, helping them embrace the change of habit.

With another grant, students researched and gave out cool reusable snack containers and water bottles. Dickinsfield is now a Waste Free Lunch school, encouraging families to use washable containers instead of throw-away plastic baggies. As an Apple School they encourage healthy eating, with the added benefit that fruit and veggies leave less waste than junk food. As a Leader in Me school, they have student leaders engaged in all ways.

The Parent Association selects items for student hot lunches that are healthier and have less packaging. For several years they have also encouraged families to bring their own reusable plates and utensils to school barbecues and potlucks, where washable cloth tablecloths are used instead of disposable plastic.

Staff use washable plates and cups for meals. Instead of bottled water at school events, there is a water dispenser. Students have switched to reusable water bottles for sports days. Hand dryers in bathrooms have replaced paper towels. Paper that needs to be shredded is composted by worms.

School Garden: Grow, and Eat, and Rot

The new garden, installed with the help of the RMWB Parks department and supported by another BP Energy grant, is the first school community garden in Fort McMurray. Students designed, planted, watered and harvested last year for the first time.

Through the garden, students are learning directly about dirt, plants, ecosystems and solar energy. They learn there is less pollution when you grow your own food, as no packaging or transportation is needed. Students are able to see the complete cycle as lunch waste becomes compost, which helps plants grow, which are then eaten, with the waste composted again.

It’s a group project where the librarian, counsellor, teacher assistants, administration, parents and teachers have all helped out. Principal Paul Smith and vice principal Jodine Wells proudly showed the garden to the Communities In Bloom judges last August, helping Fort McMurray earn high marks in the youth involvement category.

Families have been supportive, babysitting worms and helping water and weed the garden during the summer. They have also been inspired: 10 Dickinsfield families purchased Green Cone outdoor composters at cost from RMWB, and many participated in a waste-free vegetable fundraiser with farmer Mandy of Meadowcreek Farms. Mandy is also teaching students about food sustainability.

The school also has plans for indoor Bokashi composting (a Japanese anaerobic process) and an experimental outdoor composting area.

Making a difference in the community

Students participated in the naming competition of the RMWB’s newest mascot, RRRed, a Red Wiggler worm. Jarod Peckford, the RMWB’s Supervisor of Public and Environmental Services, has supplied worms and colorful RRRed pamphlets and posters.

With all these initiatives, school waste has been reduced by 70 per cent according to Dickinsfield’s happy custodians. With seven fewer garbage bags filled per day, this means 1,200 fewer bags go to the landfill per year.

“We’re excited to see other schools’ teachers experimenting with vermicomposting,” says teacher Kitty Cochrane. She noted that Westwood High School has a new garden and greenhouse, and the RMWB is proposing to build two more school gardens this year.

“It’s wonderful to see children being responsible leaders, as they make a difference in our school that impacts our community and our world,” says Cochrane. “We’re all learning new habits. When you make small changes and multiply them by over 750 kids and staff and their families, it makes a huge difference.”

And a much, much smaller pile of garbage.


Students learned about healthy eating, solar energy and how to grow food through École Dickinsfield School’s garden.

Recycling leaders at École Dickinsfield School sort and recycle juice boxes, paper, plastic and cardboard every week.

Dickinsfield staff and students use reusable bottles instead of bottled water.

Farmer Mandy of Meadowcreek Farms

Dickinsfield students dramatically reduce the school’s waste by bringing their lunches to school in reusable containers.

Students harvest vegetables last fall from Ecole Dickinsfield School’s community garden.

Dickinsfield teacher Kitty Cochrane wears a “Bag Monster” costume composed of 500 single-use bags, the amount an average North American throws away in a year.

Grade 3 “Wormologist” Max.

Red wiggler worms will convert these apple cores and banana peels into compost.

Potatoes harvested from École Dickinsfield School’s garden.

Red Wiggler Worms allow year-round composting at École Dickinsfield School.

Gardening leaders care for the plants at Ecole Dickinsfield School’s garden.


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