The School District 69 (Qualicum) board of education is looking for a balance between an international field trip planned for next year, and its potential environmental impacts.
Approximately a year and a half ago, SD69 held a community discussion on the environmental impacts caused by out-of-province and international field trips involving air travel, with students, parents and teachers weighing in.
In October 2019, the district’s school board voted against a controversial motion introduced by trustee Barry Kurland to oppose such field trips. Instead, the board assembled a climate action committee which would make recommendations on how the school district could reduce its ecological footprint.
At the most recent board meeting, held on Tuesday, May 25, a motion introduced by trustee Laura Godfrey was favourably passed for the board’s final approval of an international field trip in March 2022 for Ballenas Secondary School students.
A Ballenas school counsellor, Shannon Confortin, also wrote a letter to the board in support of the field trip. The field trip, planned for spring break next year, will include stops in London, Paris, Barcelona and Rome, with one teacher chaperone for every six students, as well as an Education First (EF) tour director.
“In addition to their commitment to providing safe educational experiences for students, EF is committed to reducing their environmental impact. They will be voluntarily offsetting all of their global carbon emissions through their Hello Zero program,” wrote Confortin.
As per their website, Education First is an international education company that specializes in language training, educational travel, academic degree programs and cultural exchange.
During the May 25 meeting, board trustee Elaine Young said she believes that while the field trip has incredible educational value, the newly adopted field trip policy does dictate the learning experience must also include the climate impacts of the field trip itself.
“I want the discussion to happen with the students. It’s their Earth that they’re going to inherit from those of us who have messed it up royally. And I want them to really have that ethical discussion,” said Young.
Vice-chair Julie Austin said that while having these conversations may be difficult, they are also necessary and will likely be ongoing.
“I’m concerned that through EF tours, their carbon offset program, I feel, is being built on the back of privilege. There are a bunch of people in a Third World country planting trees so that we can fly around the globe… We’re not sort of taking that responsibility ourselves,” she said.
She also raised concerns regarding the cultural experience in a ‘whirlwind’ trip to Europe, and that while the trip duration is 12 days, students would only be spending approximately two days in each city.