As the school year winds to a close, students at Don Ross Middle School have a lot to be proud of.
For the fifth year, groups of Grade 7 students were each given a $20 bill with the challenge to use it as a baseline to fundraise for a local charity of their choice. After researching the organization, the students develop a business plan to support their fundraisers.
Sixty students brought in a total of $3,915. As the tally of the money was announced, they erupted in cheers. It had all been raised through a variety of efforts including bake sales, selling plants at the Squamish Farmers' Market, and going door-to-door with different goods.
The 14 groups receiving the funds this year included Howe Sound Women's Shelter, BC Children's Hospital, BC Cancer Foundation, the SPCA and Protect Our Waters.
The $20 Project started with a one-time grant from Sea to Sky School District 48. Since then, students have aimed to raise at least enough to return the funds for the following year's project.
"It was an eye-opener for them," teacher Stephan Guerin said of the participating students. "They found so much ownership."
Meanwhile, in Lori Barjaktarovic and Amy Erskine's classes of 60 Grade 7 students brainstormed how to help mitigate the effects climate — and shoot documentaries of their efforts. Between group projects and individual actions at home, students planted trees and gardens, started biking more and tried more plant-based diets. One student even wrote a vegan recipe book. Others took up letter writing to politicians.
"I think on an overwhelming issue, the thing that stops us from becoming depressed is action. You can do something. Giving them a chance to try that and see what other students their age can also do," Barjaktarovic said of the project.
Barjaktarovic, known around school as Ms. B, said it's the first time they've done the interdisciplinary project at Don Ross, involving fundraising efforts, math, science, English and artistic skills in the actions and the filming of their documentaries.
A project like this, Barjaktarovic said, can be the stepping stone for young students to follow in the footsteps of older students, like those leading climate protests and plastic bans in Squamish.
On June 15 — a Saturday — Don Ross students donated their time to set up new play equipment in the schoolyard. The gaga ball pit is the latest to join the new tetherballs, picnic tables and slacklines, with a new basketball hoop and more seating to come.
"They still want to play at this age," principal Cory Hartling said.
A donation from the PAC kicked off the project this year, noting the middle school didn't have a structured play area. But it was the students who put their imaginations to the test, coming up with different ideas. When it came time for the gaga ball pit to be installed, a group of students, armed with power tools, put in several hours of work — then play.
Much of the time students spent on these projects, Guerin notes, was outside of school hours.
"That's what I think is the most powerful part," he said. "They donated their own time to create that positive effect."