KING CITY, ON – Andrew MacMillan, an outdoor education teacher at King City’s Country Day School, facilitated the planting of more than 8,000 trees on the school’s property earlier this year. The planting was done through the Government of Ontario’s 50 Million Tree Program, which is run by non-profit organization Forests Ontario. Forests Ontario has recognized MacMillan as their newest Green Leader.
MacMillan (56), is passionate about getting kids outside, and it is something he has strived to achieve throughout his career. Inspired by Marked by the Wild, an anthology of literature about the Canadian wilderness that he says shaped him both as a person and as a teacher, MacMillan avidly promotes the physical and mental health benefits of time spent outdoors to his students and colleagues.
Before coming to Country Day School, MacMillan taught at Upper Canada College. “Upper Canada has an incredible outdoor school,” said MacMillan. “They have done a great job of being stewards, reestablishing forest cover in the area and establishing arboretums. I noticed it was those kids’ favourite part of the week – getting outside and being active. I learned some important lessons coming from that school.”
Country Day School, where MacMillan has worked since 1998, is a private school attended by youth from junior kindergarten through high school. The school sits on 100 acres of rolling hills, which MacMillan was eager to make the most of. The enthusiastic educator began as a geography and history teacher before taking on the role of Senior Outdoor Education Coordinator. ‘Mr. Mac,’ as his students call him, teaches skills like collecting firewood, starting fires, surviving in cold temperatures, and planting trees.
MacMillan first learned about the 50 Million Tree Program (50 MTP) in 2017. The 50 MTP facilitates large-scale tree plantings by managing the operational aspects of planting in addition to providing funding assistance. Country Day School recognized the educational, recreational, and environmental value of adding trees to their property, and in the spring of 2018 more than 8,000 trees were planted through the program by Forests Ontario planting partner Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA).
“We wanted the students to be involved, so we researched what tree species could be planted here as an academic exercise,” MacMillan explained. “They had to look at what was already here, as well as what species should grow in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence forest region. We also made it possible for students of all levels to help with the tree planting and maintenance: the grade nines were the most actively involved in the planting with some assistance from the grade eleven environmental science students, and the grade three students helped with the watering of the trees. Some of our faculty also helped plant potted trees, and the support from our grounds crew was tremendous.”
“We planted a variety of species including Red pine, Red oak, Black walnut, White pine, White spruce, and Eastern white cedar,” explained Mary Jane Moroz, Forest Stewardship Advisor with 50 MTP planting partner TRCA. “Andrew [MacMillan] had a solid vision for the school’s future forest and it was a pleasure to work with him. He is an advocate of connecting his students with nature and teaching them responsibility in nurturing it.”
Planting partners are agents like Moroz who assess planting sites, conduct the plantings, and conduct follow-up assessments.
Since the plantings, students and teachers have had the pleasure of observing more wildlife on the property, such as deer, coyote, rabbit, wild turkey, and waterfowl. Having these animals has also been a teaching opportunity for MacMillan’s students.
“In my green industries class I design local projects for the kids – the most popular one is a wildlife survey. It gets the kids outside, walking the campus in search of evidence of wildlife. Then they have to develop strategies to find the animals with some help from our trail cameras.”
MacMillan and his wife, Nadine – who is a librarian at Country Day School – are also business partners at a summer camp. “It’s a traditional wilderness canoe tripping camp,” MacMillan said with an affable grin. “It’s on a 20-acre island in the middle of Lake Temagami, and it’s attended by about 120 kids each summer.”
MacMillan was successful in his attempts to encourage a love of the outdoors in his own children. His son is currently in his fourth year of the Outdoor Adventure Leadership Program at Laurentian University, and spends his summer breaks working as a canoe trip guide in the Northwest Territories. His daughter, a Carlton University graduate, will be teaching skiing this winter in Whistler, British Columbia.
MacMillan was recently chosen to be Forests Ontario’s newest Green Leader. The Green Leader program acknowledges individuals who have planted trees under the 50 MTP and have made a lasting commitment to enhancing forest cover in the province and improving their local communities.
“Andrew MacMillan’s efforts introducing our youth to the environment are commendable,” said Rob Keen, CEO of Forests Ontario. “Instilling a passion for nature will lead some of these students to become future stewards of our natural resources.”
For more information about the 50 Million Tree Program, contact Forests Ontario at 416-646-1193 or visit www.forestsontario.ca/50MTP.