DOWN TO EARTH: Earth Challenge 2020 sees great, local participation

I spend a lot of time in schools with the Conservation Society’s Water Wise program.

Schools started back up voluntarily and part time recently.

I spend a lot of time in schools with the Conservation Society’s Water Wise program, and I understand the mix of emotions this must bring to everyone involved. Yet another covid-induced challenging situation; to continue to educate students while following the distancing and hygiene guidelines and yet having schools still feel like safe and comfortable places for both students and staff. I have nothing but admiration for teachers; it is a difficult and demanding job in normal times. This adds another whole, previously un-dreamed of, dimension.

While I haven’t walked any school hallways since early March, I have still been connected to kids and teachers. This last couple of weeks we completed the 2020 version of the Earth Challenge. I have mentioned in previous articles that we usually have around 225 grade 7s competing in this program that includes class instruction, field trips, science displays, a competition between classes with outdoor activities and a jeopardy-style quiz.

Luckily, students had received most of the Earth Challenge class instruction time when the schools closed. The Conservation Society sped its way up the Zoom learning curve, while teachers were busy working out how to corral and connect with their classes online. If we wanted to run an Earth Challenge this year, it would have to be a pandemic version.

We reached out tentatively to the Grade 7 teachers, wondering if anyone would even be interested. Surprisingly, the answer was ‘yes’, so off we went into ideas mode. We made this year all about the projects; kids could pick any topic from the Earth Challenge booklet they already had and do something more with it – anything. Then we would run our quiz with our newly acquired zoom skills, with a separate quiz for each class with whichever kids showed up. We had no idea how it would turn out- our philosophy was ‘anything is better than nothing’.

READ MORE: Adjusting to our new normal

Having low expectations can be good. As project after project rolled in; sculptures and dioramas, experiments, power-points, videos, posters, quizzes and puzzles, extensive knowledge-based worksheets and even a windmill (really!), my spirits climbed. These were engaged, bright, hard-working grade 7s, putting huge amounts of time into their work. We then logged on at the appointed time for each class quiz, really hoping all the tech would work. Sometimes there was just one student representing their class, but other times there were four or five. My adult son overheard one quiz and said ‘it gave him hope for the future’ hearing the kids chatting, co-operating and making space for each other’s opinions.

It was a competition, so we do have a grand winner to announce; Mr. Kruus’ grade 7s had the highest total of project and quiz marks, followed by Mr. Wilson’s class with Ms. Watkinson’s class third. Ms. McCoubrey and Mr. O Keefe’s classes also participated with projects and great quiz scores.

One of my favourite pandemic memories will always be the moment my inbox started to flood with these projects, realising the kids were still out there and wanting to learn. I wish everyone the easiest transition possible as school restart and we all cautiously start to reconnect in person.

CCCS tip: Challenge yourself to the 2020 Earth Challenge on our website,

For more information on Water Wise or Waste Wise and any of our school and community programs, contact the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society at or visit the website at

Jenny Howell is the Water Wise instructor and the executive director with the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society.

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