January 26th, 2023

Students picking carrots from a garden in the summer. One student is biting down on a carrot in the photo.

The 2023 ReFrame Film Festival, running from January 26 to February 3, includes the world premiere of “Rewilding the Classroom”, a short documentary by educator Cam Douglas and filmmaker Rodney Fuentes about aligning educational practices with the reality of environmental crises through the Youth Leadership in Sustainability program in Peterborough. (Photo courtesy ReFrame Film Festival)

By: Lili Paradi, GreenUP Communications Manager

The annual ReFrame documentary film festival (January 26th – February 3rd) is on its way, boasting over 60 films from around the world. Rewilding the Classroom, directed by local educator Cam Douglas and filmmaker Rodney Fuentes, is one of the many compelling stories playing during the festival that feature young people from the Peterborough region.  

Youth featured in Rewilding took part in Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board’s integrated curriculum 4-credit program based out of Trent University. This semester-long fall opportunity, called the Youth Leadership in Sustainability (YLS) program, involves unique environmental education opportunities for young people.

Amy Siegel, Creative Director of ReFrame introduced me to two students from the YLS program and director Cam Douglas, to shine a light on what it meant to be a part of this opportunity.

Here’s what they had to say:

Aisling MacQuarie (16 years old), Grade 11, Thomas A. Stewart Secondary School

Aisling was excited to tell me about how the YLS program created an atmosphere where they were able to strengthen their leadership skills, despite them already participating in confidence-building hobbies like choir, theatre, and rugby.

What made you choose to enroll in YLS?

I was told through word-of-mouth that this was an amazing experience. The hands-on style of learning in YLS is an untraditional method of teaching that I quickly came to enjoy.

Student measuring tree.

Youth Leadership in Sustainability is an innovative experiential-learning program based in Peterborough that prepares grade 11 and 12 students for leadership roles in sustainability initiatives at the local and global levels. The one-semester program launched in September 2018 and includes hands-on learning experiences outside and within the traditional classroom, rich in teachings from Indigenous and global perspectives. (Photo courtesy of Youth Leadership in Sustainability)

What stood out to you while being part of the program?

Activities in YLS are a lot more empowering than reading facts about the city on our screens. As an example, we were able to bike around Peterborough for a field trip, seeing how we can make our transportation infrastructure more accessible for the community.

Did you face any challenges this semester?

One learning curve was leaving your comfort zone and your day-to-day routine for something more unpredictable. Our teachers encouraged our understanding of our comfort zone. They taught us that when we step a bit outside of the zone, we can do a lot of beneficial work.

How did you see you and your peers change through this semester?

This year, our class was able to chat with the Peterborough mayor about creating a local biodiversity framework based on what we learned attending COP15, the global biodiversity conference in Montréal. I noticed that many of my peers, although nervous at the start, were able to have the courage to speak at both events.

Noelle Bowley (16 years old), Grade 11, St. Peter’s Catholic Secondary School

Noelle explained that she is an avid runner and loves being outdoors. She reflected that her experience with YLS was above-and-beyond. Sustainability has been ingrained in her lifestyle from a young age. She noticed that her peers in YLS have a similar mentality.

Do you think it would be a challenge for those who haven’t grown up living sustainably or haven’t gone through something like YLS to pick up this knowledge?

It would be difficult but not impossible. Being more sustainable is not often the easiest option out there. If you didn’t have an upbringing in making sustainable choices, it would probably have to completely change your perception of what you do.

students from the Youth Leadership in Sustainability program at COP15.

The Canada Pavilion at COP15 provided an opportunity for youth to showcase Canadian action and leadership on biodiversity conservation, including students from the Youth Leadership in Sustainability program, who presented their “Vision 2022: 20 Youth Raise their Voices for 20 Targets.” (Photo courtesy of Youth Leadership in Sustainability)

What was the YLS experience like for you?

It was amazing to have community experiences throughout this program. For example, we met individuals protecting Catchacoma Forest while collecting data about the carbon sequestration of old-growth forests in the Kawartha Highlands. I’ve met knowledgeable community members and made great memories from this experience.

What is something you want people to know about Rewilding?

I think youth need to watch this documentary, so they can know they can make a difference, too. Even though sometimes talking about the environment can be doom-and-gloom, it’s not always like that. If young people knew that their choices make a big impact, they may be more likely to change their actions or do what they can.

Cam Douglas, YLS Founder and Teacher/Coordinator

How does it feel to be running YLS for 5 consecutive years?

I am grateful to work with 20-25 young people and countless support volunteers and community experts each year. The student’s energy as they come to class is what inspires me to keep going. Every day, the students encourage me to challenge what I know.

What inspired you to work on Rewilding with Rodney?

I can see Rewilding as a tool that will hopefully broaden conversations about how environmental education can be portrayed in the classroom and curriculum.

What made this year’s program special?

It was beautiful to help bring local environmental impact to an international stage. When you have your eye on a goal like taking young people to COP15 or coordinating a novel integrated education course, it can bring people together in subtle but profound ways.

Applications are now open for students to apply to the Youth Leadership in Sustainability program for next fall. View the YLS program website for more details (http://yls.green).

Rewilding is a 15-minute documentary that GreenUP is excited to sponsor in this year’s ReFrame Film Festival. Audiences can purchase ticket packs of 5, 8, or 10, or a Virtual Festival Pass for those who want to take in all the films. Pay-what-you-can standalone tickets are also available for every film. Purchase your ReFrame tickets at https://ReFramefilmfestival.ca/festival/passes-tickets/.