EcoSpark Environmental Organization
Our Impact Why We Exist
EcoSpark works with commuities and schools, providing them with the knowledge and tools to monitor their environment and take action for positive environmental change. We believe that through encouraging and empowering those who we work with to take action themselves, we can create and sustain a healthy environment.
EcoSpark believes that a healthy environment is an essential basic need for well-being.
EcoSpark believes that experiential environmental education inspires people to be environmentally responsible.
EcoSpark believes that developing and sharing environmental knowledge is a crucial step towards promoting more effective environmental stewardship.
EcoSpark believes that people have the ability and responsibility to be stewards who work to effect positive environmental change.
EcoSpark believes that individuals and communities are responsible for protecting, maintaining and restoring the environment for present and future generations.
Our Story What We Do
History of Organization
EcoSpark was founded as Citizens Environment Watch (CEW) in 1996 in response to the provincial government's cuts to environmental inspectors. CEW was envisioned as a catalyst to community engagement in monitoring and stewardship.
Since 1996, EcoSpark has connected people to their local environment through education, monitoring and stewardship. We have a strong reputation in the areas of community engagement, education, citizen science, facilitation and collaboration. EcoSpark continues to engage community members in monitoring activities and has gained much experience in helping Torontonians take environmentally-positive actions to make Toronto a more environmentally friendlier and healthier place to live.
Accolades and Accomplishments
EcoSpark has a strong reputation in the areas of education, citizen science, community engagement and collaboration. To date, we have directly worked with over 57,000 youth and adults from across southern Ontario in over 20 watersheds.
Through our formal education programs, we have worked directly with over 24,000 teachers and students from 15 schools boards to date to monitor their local environments. In 2005, the City of Toronto recognized EcoSpark with the Environmental Award of Excellence. In 2010, EcoSpark partnered with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) to develop a program to connect school solar panels with student learning - the Our Solar Future. Our educations programs continue to be endorsed by the Ontario and TDSB EcoSchools Program.
In 2008, the City of Toronto recognized EcoSpark ability to authentically engage communities by awarding us with the contract for the Live Green Toronto Community Animation program. Between 2009 and 2012, our community animators worked with ~450 groups and ~13,000 Torontonians to initiate and support green projects including renewable energy, community gardens, and bicycle paths. Our animators inspired ~19,000 volunteer hours and helped with over 80 funding proposals that resulted in over $1,000,000 for green projects in Toronto.
Our Programs How We Do It
EcoSpark's programs include hands-on environmental exploration and study, public engagement, and strengthening of community networks and awareness.
- Changing Currents: Senior School and High School students learning through stream assessments
- Oak Ridges Moraine for 2015: Raising public awareness regarding the 2015 provincial review
- Nature Academy: Environmental professional development program for high school science teachers
Changing Currents inspires students from Grade 8 to 12 in the GTA to become stewards for their local environment. We take students to their local streams and assess its water quality by examining the bugs that live in it. EcoSpark facilitates their transformative journey from student to scientist to steward for their local environment.
It’s a series of firsts for the kids! Kids, for the very first time, visiting their local stream, putting on waders, and doing real science – sampling bugs! We share with kids the secrets of their local stream, opening their eyes to the vast and wonderful world of aquatic bugs.
Changing Currents gives kids a chance to learn about the health of their local environment by sampling and examining the things that live within it. The kids assess water quality and relate their stream to the health of the surrounding neighbourhood – garbage, roads, cars, sewers and more. Kids gain a greater awareness about the impact of people and land-use on local environments. It also sparks a greater sense of connection to their local stream and a will to protect and preserve it. We support this by incorporating stewardship with an on-site clean up. The kids are inspired to lead their own activities to advocate for their local environment. Stewardship activities have included restocking streams with fish, planting trees, writing articles in the school newsletters, organizing additional stream clean-ups, and planning school-wide assemblies and conferences.
Each year, EcoSpark's Changing Currents program inspires over 2,000 youths to become citizen scientists and young environmental stewards. Since launching in 2000, we have worked with over 13,000 teachers and students and monitored over 200 unique sites across the GTA. In 2012, EcoSpark inspired 89% of participating students to have an increased interest in the sciences. EcoSpark makes science fun and accessible.
Catherine Kurucz is a science teacher and assistant curriculum leader for science at Sir Robert L. Borden B.T.I. in the Toronto District School Board. She and her classes have been participating in Changing Currents since 2010, monitoring the Highland Creek in Colonel Danforth Park in Scarborough. Below is a testimonial from Catherine and her students on the importance and impact of Changing Currents:
Changing Currents provides a unique combination of meaningful science instructed by mentor scientists in the students’ own backyard so that student engagement is peaked more so than I have seen in any of our classroom activities. Students begin making connections with what they are doing in the field and how this relates to their futures. Bringing in experts from the community, proper equipment and protocols, provides a sense of credibility for the students not necessarily available in school. Thanks to Changing Currents, science has been “brought alive”. – Catherine Kurucz, science teacher from Borden BTI
“You guys actually inspired me to become what you are. I was told that I looked comfortable in the water; I thought it was so cool I could have done it all day. I was so inspired by you three to become a scientist. It was the coolest thing I have done in my life.” – Tasha, student from Borden BTI
“You guys made my day fun by learning new things about insects and the creek was fun; I was inspired with everything I learned and I never new insects were interesting . I just wanted to thank you guys for making my day a blast.” – Kristina, student from Borden BTI
Toronto's Vital Signs® Report:
"Toronto's total annual water consumption increased by 8% in 2010."
"Less than 5% of the city has stormwater control."
"8 of Toronto's 12 beaches were open for swimming more than 80% of the time."
Oak Ridges Moraine for 2015
The Oak Ridges Moraine Partnership for 2015 is made up of four leading environmental organizations – EcoSpark, STORM, Ontario Nature and Earthroots. We are building on a 25-year track record of mobilizing public support for the moraine and have banded together to have a strong, collective voice for our memberships. This partnership is a unique opportunity to pool together our collective resources, experiences and expertise for the 2015 Review.
This year, 2015, the province of Ontario has initiated a coordinated review of the Greenbelt Plan, Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Niagara Escarpment Plan. Our partnership is building public awareness and support for the Greenbelt, encouraging and facilitating public participation in this review process, and ensuring that strong environmental policies are upheld and enhanced at the review.
The Oak Ridges Moraine Partnership for 2015 is building on EcoSpark’s years of education and engagement as the lead of the Monitoring the Moraine (MTM) program from 2005 to 2012. During that time, we built momentum across the landscape, conducting community-based monitoring on the moraine, and celebrating the moraine’s land and water. We witnessed positive changes in people and their communities due in part to the MTM program. Individuals who attended our early workshops went on to become local environmental activists, councillors, and moraine heroes. They became members of existing local groups, joined the boards of others, and formed their own groups. In 2010, we launched the first public awareness campaign about the 2015 Review of the ORMCP, which garnered support from 1,350 individuals who pledged to participate in the plan review.
In 2015, we launched the Marvellous Moraine campaign (marvellousmoraine.ca) to encourage the public to learn about the impact and importance of the Oak Ridges Moraine. We connected with the ENGOs, farmers, planners and community groups to protect the moraine. We are a key stakeholder in the 2015 Coordinated Review, attending multiple stakeholder and public consultations hosted by community groups, municipalities and the province. This culminated in our EBR submission to the 2015 review (morainefor2015.ca). With our long and successful history of involvement on the landscape and the strength of our partnership, EcoSpark is well positioned to ensure the Oak Ridges Moraine is protected for generations to come. We look forward to working with you in this endeavour.
Nature Academy offers professional development and coaching to high school science and geography teachers to help them bring local outdoor environmental education to their students and schools.
Nature Academy will ensure that teachers have the tools, resources and support to deliver local outdoor environmental education to their students. Our approach will be to infuse direct engagement with the local environment, i.e., nearby nature, into the curriculum so students can learn about their trees, their parks, their streams, and their neighbourhood.
Developed in consultation with educators, the courses are delivered by a roster of experienced educators, complimented with expert guest speakers. Nature Academy covers what to teach, how to teach using best practices in ecological literacy and inquiry-based learning, and provides take-home resources and access to coaching from Nature Academy staff.
Nature Academy provides a well-developed, curriculum-specific professional development program, as well as coaching in outdoor local environmental education for high school science and geography teachers. Unlike similar programs, Nature Academy workshops occur frequently, locally, and inexpensively, making them accessible to teachers. It improves eco-literacy and provides resources and support that are otherwise not readily available for high school teachers.
Varsha Patel, a science teacher from George Vanier Secondary School in North York, was encouraged by her colleague to attend our Nature Academy pilot workshops. Her colleague, the resident “green teacher” who was retiring, wanted to pass this eco-torch to Varsha. She registered for the first workshop. Varsha enjoyed it so much that she signed up on the spot for the second workshop! “Both workshops offered invaluable outdoor experience...Prior to attending these workshops, I had never attended an environmentally-focused workshop and truly appreciated having done so.”
Funding and Program Partners
The current funding partners for Changing Currents are NSERC, TD Bank, Salamander Foundation, Toronto Field Naturalists, Natural Resources Canada, Employment and Social Development Canada, Keurig Canada Inc., the World Wildlife Fund, Telus, and the J.P. Bickell Foundation.
The current funding partners for Oak Ridges Moraine for 2015 are Tides Foundation (US) and Friends of the Greenbelt. Our program partners are Ontario Nature, Earthroots and STORM Coalition.
The current funding partners for Nature Academy are the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the PriceWaterhouseCoopers Foundation.
What You Can Do
Activities a donation will support:
Your donation will allow us to take more teachers and students into their local streams and investigate its health, to support stewardship activities to protect our local streams and to share their water quality data our online map-based database.
Your donation will enable us to:
- connect youth to nature and cultivate a sense of place
- develop thousands of young environmental stewards in the school system
- nurture young minds and inspire them about the possibilities of careers in science
- track the ongoing health of our streams
Oak Ridges Moraine for 2015
Activities a donation will support:
Build public awareness and support for the Oak Ridges Moraine within Greenbelt; encourage and facilitate public participation in the review process; and ensure that strong environmental policies are upheld and enhanced at the review.
Your donation will enable us to:
- educate and outreach to more people about the importance of the Oak Ridges Moraine
- mobilize a strong community voice for the long-term protection of the Oak Ridges Moraine