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As one of the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada's Roots and Shoots schools, École Robert H. Smith and its students are always looking for new ways to explore and interpret the issues affecting our planet.
The school is hoping to lure a special guest who has a unique perspective on the Earth and its issues: Marc Garneau, the first Canadian in space.
Mr. Garneau not only took part in three shuttle missions to space in his career (1984, 1996 and 2000), he later also served as president of the Canadian Space Agency and a Member of Parliament.
"Every student in each class wrote a letter to Mr. Garneau asking him to come to our school to talk to us about what it was like in space," said Grade 6 student Theodore Shalley.
Grade 6 student Carys Gibson said the letters were all packaged together in an eye-catching manner: "We taped the large envelopes from each class together to make a giant rocket ship."
Carys added that Grade 6 students are learning about space in the classroom; they believe Mr. Garneau's off-world experiences would help bring their learning to life.
"It would help us learn and it would just be awesome to hear his stories about being in space," Carys said.
The school has had some famous visitors in the past—and students are hoping they'll get lucky again.
"Last year we had Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visit our school, and he came because of our letters," Theodore said.
Vice-Principal Dominique Ostermann said that through Roots and Shoots, students have been developing their own leadership abilities. The program encourages schools to take on community action projects, and through events such as the school's annual community fundraising breakfast, students take that role seriously.
"We're always looking at what makes a good leader," Ms. Ostermann said. "Mr. Garneau has shown leadership and is an example of the opportunities and possibilities that are open to Canadians, whether a student wants to be an astronaut or anything else."
In another major Roots and Shoots project that took place earlier this school year, Robert H. Smith held an Invent-A-Thon. The event served as an introduction to the school's 2017-2018 guiding theme, known by the acronym DANCE (discover, ask, nurture, create and educate).
"Students are learning how inventions happen, and it starts with their own creative ideas," Ms. Ostermann said. "Even when they have failures, there are opportunities for discovery and learning."
Grade 4 student Connor Nichols created a four-string guitar body, while classmate Blake Kleinties built a drum out of a recycled materials.
"For my guitar I used cardboard, elastics, fishing line, tin foil and a pencil," Connor said. "It makes four different sounds, because the strings are different lengths and are thin or thick."
"We made instruments because we learned about sound and vibrations in class," added Blake.
Other students created their own countries, and had to figure out how they would interact with each other.
"Roots and Shoots has made students more aware of the bigger global picture," Ms. Ostermann said. "Younger children can often be focused on their own world, but this has brought a greater awareness of how their actions can have consequences globally. All of these projects and initiatives focus on animals, people and the environment."
Robert H. Smith was the first of five WSD schools that are now part of the Roots and Shoots program, which now also includes Lord Selkirk, Meadows West, Greenway and King Edward schools.