A parent hears about an excited student’s I Can project.

By Renee Andor – Comox Valley RecordPublished: May 27, 2013 2:00 PM; Updated: May 27, 2013 2:45 PM

Bullying. Ocean pollution. Racism. Obesity. Homelessness.

These are just a few of the many, many topics Comox Valley students chose for their I Can projects — which are designed to empower students through self-directed community service projects.

Students from École Puntledge Park, Huband and Aspen Park elementary schools joined students at Queneesh Elementary School for the second annual I Can showcase Friday.

Queneesh’s gym was packed with project displays as students explained what they accomplished to touring school officials, parents and community members. Comox Valley School District superintendent Sherry Elwood attended and said the community service aspect of the I Can projects is amazing but the skills students learn are even more exciting. “What excites us most about the I Can project is how self-directed the curriculum is,” said Elwood. “As an educator, when I look at this, what moves me most is the fact that students are directing their own learning, they’re choosing their own pathways, they’re choosing their own topics, they’re choosing how to present their materials, they’re reflective about their learning…”

Huband vice principal Catherine Manson — who is one of the educators involved in the I Can initiative from the beginning — noted students were urged to think locally when choosing a project to take on. “This year what we said is it has to have a local impact of some kind,” she said. “I think what we all did was say, ‘OK you need to feel about something, what concerns you?’ The next piece was, ‘You need to learn about it,’ so there’s a huge research component. “We choose how we’re going to learn and what we’re going to learn but we have to learn, so they had to show me that they’d done that. And then they had to do something that would help that cause so that’s their action piece.”

Grade 7 Huband student Mia Wilkinson teamed up with classmates Sarah Rebitt and Taylor Finneron to learn about the Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society (MARS). The girls completed a Walk for Wildlife consisting of six laps around Courtenay Airpark, and raised $600 for MARS through the initiative. “It was nice to support,” said Wilkinson. “It was a very big accomplishment to raise $600 in just a week and all three of us, I know that we’re very proud of what we did…especially knowing that we did it for a good cause and it’s all going to the wildlife, helping the wildlife in Valley.” The group also wrote a short book called Don’t Fall out of the Nest, which they were selling for $10 each with proceeds going to MARS.

Bentley Barth, Brook Gronemeyer and Josh Wells — also Grade 7 Huband students — were inspired when they learned about the floating plastic island in the North Pacific and how it is affecting wildlife that eat it.  “Animals are mistaking the garbage for food,” said Barth. “So they’re eating it and they can’t digest it properly so then they start to die from it.” The group created a hover craft prototype with scoops on the front which are designed to scoop up the floating plastic as the machine hovers over the water. Gronemeyer said he focused on the physical building part of the project, and using his aunt’s old water bed and a leaf blower he created the prototype hover craft. “What I got out of it, I think most of all, is hover craft dynamics are actually really weird and hard to figure out and it was a lot of fun building it, the painting, and leaf blower and all that,” he said in between demos outside the gym.

Other groups raised money for the food bank, made craft boxes to send to B.C. Children’s Hospital, got involved with recycling projects at their schools and raised money for Boomer’s Legacy, among many other things.

Three groups raised money for the Comox Bay Care Society’s Care-A-Van, which provides health, dental and optometry services to homeless people in the Comox Valley. Care-A-Van co-ordinator Helen Boyd gave students tours of the van outside Queneesh and noted students raised a total of $923 for the society. “We’re very grateful to them,” she said, adding the student learning component was impressive, too. “They’ve interviewed me and asked about the (Comox Valley homelessness) statistics and how widespread the problem is — and I think it’s really heightened their sensitivity so the beauty of it is that they’re getting involved at this young age, so I just hope it continues.”