Grade 6 students highlight cultivation, preservation of trees in council chambers

Author of the article:Patrick Gibson
Publishing date:Mar 29, 2022  •  March 29, 2022  

A Grade 6 class and their teacher Mr. Belsey on March 24 in the RancheView school classroom where they assembled the presentation they made to council three days prior. Patrick Gibson/Cochrane Times

A delegation of Grade 6 students spoke in council chambers recently on stewardship of the Earth, with particular regard to forests.

One by one, students from Mr. Belsey’s class at RancheView School took to the podium to share their research on the role trees play in the atmosphere, biodiversity, industry and community before offering proposals for the continued health of local forests.

“It was really cool to talk in front of the councillors and the mayor and deputy mayor because I’m not a very confident speaker and it was good to break the ice and speak out loud to a bigger audience,” said one of the presenters Pavelle, reflecting on the meeting three days later from their classroom at the Sunset Ridge school.

From across the table they share, Ashley said she’s more comfortable with speaking but appreciated the opportunity for the same reason.

“I like public speaking, I really enjoy it,” she said.

“I thought it was a really good experience and I’d like to do that again.”

The class structured their presentation to be like one might expect of a developer or other large organization. Speaking in a formal tone, the class opened by thanking council, administration and those in attendance, spent a few minutes summarizing their background research, before laying out a set of clear, concise requests.

“You guys did a great job up here. It’s super nerve racking, I can relate to how you probably all felt,” said councillor Marni Fedeyko, overseeing the March 21 meeting as deputy mayor.

“Kudos to Mr. Belsey, you obviously have some very caring and environmentally-caring students.”

The class had four proposals: a town map of areas where students would be able to plant trees on, the white spruce declared the official tree of Cochrane, the first Saturday in June declared as ‘Arbor Day’ in Cochrane, and that council write a letter of support for a national date.

Cochrane’s most famous tree (the class used the names ‘Grandmother Tree’ and ‘Grandfather Tree’ interchangeably) is a white spruce.

“It’s a huge tree that’s been here for like, three hundred years!” noted Reid, another classmate Gabe echoing his words almost exactly.

Their presentation was nuanced, particularly for a delegation of 11-year-olds. With the tree planting map for example, they referred to a need to stay in communication with the town and school district’s maintenance departments. It also credits the forestry industry’s impact on the local economy (Spray Lake Sawmills was listed as their ‘project partner’).

Ryan called the experience “amazing.”

“Because people got to present to the whole town council,” he noted.

“It felt good, like we were making a difference,” Emelia added.

The positive feelings sounded mutual.

“Thank you for your presentation, I thought it was great,” said councillor Alex Reed.

“I did learn something new as well.”

‘Learning something new’ was a similar theme from all of the councillors.

“ I had no idea that blue jays use the spruce trees for their fringes, that’s an interesting fact. And that the boreal forests seed the clouds with moisture,” said councillor Susan Flowers.

“So there’s lots of learnings here for us today as well as you’re sharing your passion and your enthusiasm… We’re sure soaking up the information and you gave us lots to think about.”

Councillor Tara McFadden agreed.

“Very informative, and really well put together and you all did a great job presenting and I want to thank you and your parents and your teacher for all participating in how we make decisions,” she said.

“As much as I learned great things about trees, it was also just great to be reminded how important and how energized our youth are.”

The class appeared during a ‘Committee of the Whole’, a more conversational format of council meeting where binding decisions aren’t made. Their proposals will be discussed by councillors and town staff at an upcoming ‘regular’ meeting.

Mayor Jeff Genung said he was “super impressed” with the presentation and that the proposals were particularly timely.

“Not only are you learning about government today, but you’re actually utilizing your government in making positive change, making good change in your community,” he said.

“I think that from my perspective, this is a good idea. We need to have more of these ideas come to us and I look forward to the discussion when we get together and make the decision.”

The class said they appreciated not getting too much of a ‘grilling’.

“I thought the councillors and the deputy mayor and mayor were very kind and respectful when we were presenting, because I definitely know I probably messed up a couple times, and they were not, they weren’t judging us,” Pavelle explained.

“So it was a very comfortable environment to present in, and so I felt way better presenting in front of them than someone who would judge if I messed up.”

The timeline for their requests isn’t yet clear, but in the meantime the class continues to study forests in science class and government in social studies.

“One thing I thought that was kind of cool that I learned this year about trees is that seventy per cent of the Earth’s moisture comes from trees,” noted Zoe.

“I was super surprised to learn that when someone cuts down a tree and the stump is left over, it can be used as a transport type of thing: It can move water to a different area,” added Dawson.

D’Angelo said they watched a video from a popular YouTuber involving a ‘challenge’ to get millions of trees planted.

“We studied about trees almost the whole year in science, and we watched a video about Arbor Day in the U.S. by Mr. Beast,” he said.

It sounds like the class took to the message.

“Our inspiration, it kind of came from a video because we were watching other people plant trees and what they were doing to make a difference and we were like ‘Oh yeah, we should do that,’” added Emelia.

The class is hoping they’ll be able to begin a large tree planting project at their school in June.

Said their teacher Mr. Belsey, “If we get permission from Rocky View Schools and the town and if they show us where we’re allowed to plant, (a sawmill staff member is) going to come up here with all the seedlings in a truck and he’s going to help us show us how to plant them properly.”