When elementary school kids buy strangers double-doubles

Hundreds of students gathered Tuesday to set up science-fair displays with practical ideas for tackling problems like excess garbage, bullying, student stress and processed food.

Some of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board's most eager activists shared ideas on Tuesday

Husein and Cloe, students from James MacDonald Elementary School, learn how to plant seeds from Grade 12 student Emily Kubesheskie at Saltfleet Secondary School. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

One group loaded up a bunch of gift cards and left them at the counter at Tim Hortons, telling cashiers to use them to tell customers their double-doubles were on the house, hoping to spark a pay-it-forward avalanche.

Other students baked cupcakes to raise money to buy books in other languages for their classmates who are newcomers to Canada — "so we can make them feel welcome in our school, not just alone and abandoned," said eighth-grader Natalin Haji.

On Tuesday, about 600 young activists from schools across the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board brought their exuberance and righteous agitating to a banquet hall on the Mountain for a change-making summit.

How kids make change happen

They set up science-fair displays with what change they're wrought — practical ideas for tackling problems like excess garbage, bullying, student stress and processed food.

They made buttons bearing inspirational quotes, planted vegetable seeds and signed petitions to join David Suzuki's Blue Dot campaign, saying that people deserve to live in healthy environments. 

They put any garbage from their "litterless lunches" on a blue circular tarp in the foyer, a visual accountability metaphor to not cover the Earth in trash.

They tweeted and blogged and vlogged and selfied — finding ways to digitally invoke the theme of "Together we create change". 

"You can't force this on kids," said Pieter Toth, a teacher at Dundas Valley Secondary School who admitted he gets teary watching students get this passionate about issues that matter. "You have to give them permission to follow their passion."

Across the buzzing room on Tuesday, hundreds of students and teachers were carrying a mantle invoked in a David Suzuki video aired near the beginning of the event.

"Things are only impossible until someone decides that they are not," Suzuki said. "Today is the day we decide." 

'They feel welcome'

Here's a peek at what a few of the groups were up to: 

Classmates of newcomers to Canada at Cathy Wever School noticed they didn't have books in their languages. So they baked cupcakes and sold them to fellow students to raise money to buy books. 

Grade 4 students Anmol Ghuman and Delecia Howard demonstrate a "breathing ball" that students can borrow from the "chillax bin" at Sir Isaac Brock Elementary School. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)
"We raised money to buy books in different languages for all the kids in our school that don't speak English," said Haji, a Grade 8 student at Cathy Wever School.

"Instead of sitting there and everyone's doing something, they have a book in their language, and they feel welcome, because people are trying hard to make them feel good," Haji said.

Pay it forward

Inspired by the feeling you get when someone else buys your coffee, Grade 7s at Guy Brown Elementary loaded up gift cards, told cashiers to use them to cover people's beverages at Tim Hortons, and then grabbed a perch nearby to watch the reactions. 

The 'chillax bin'

Stress is not welcome in classrooms at Sir Isaac Brock Elementary in the east end.

Grade 4s and 5s from that school demonstrated the toys in the "chillax bins" they put together.

The bins have toys like a "breathing ball" and stress squeezy balls.

They also had mesmerizing water bottles that have been reused and filled with coloured oil and water and sparkles and little toys.

"When you're stressed out, you can just look at it and it helps you stay calm," said Mustafa Mirza, a Grade 5 student at Sir Isaac Brock.