Stories & Features

Superheroes wake B.C. kids up to sustainability action

Image of kids in the Planet Protectors Academy
Thousands of kids in Grades 3 to 6 have had a fun time learning about sustainability through the Planet Protectors Academy, one of a variety of B.C. community groups to receive a BC Hydro grant to help them deliver their educational programs.

Planet Protector Academy among BC Hydro community grant recipients

A serendipitous landing in small town B.C., and the arrival of chainsaws, put Vanessa Lebourdais on a path that has led her to classroom superhero stardom in B.C. and beyond.

"I was a musical theatre performer who was struggling in Toronto and somehow ended up in this little town I've never heard of called Tofino," says LeBourdais, founder and creative director of DreamRider Productions since 1997. "I was living in the rainforest, with eagles around, and it was amazing for a kid from Toronto. And then one day, my landlady clear cut the rainforest in our backyard and turned it into... yes, a parking lot."

And just like that, LeBourdais became an environmentalist. She wrote and sang songs during the "War in the Woods" protest at Clayoquot Sound from 1991 to 1993. And four years later, along with her superhero partner Ian, she launched DreamRider Productions and the Planet Protector Academy.

Dreamrider relies on corporate and foundation donations, along with direct funding from various city sustainability initiatives, to take its fun and engaging Planet Protector program into B.C. schools. And in 2019, a $2,000 donation from BC Hydro's community investment program helped take Planet Protectors into 20 new classes in smaller B.C. Interior communities.

"It's great to get the funding from partners like BC Hydro for these smaller communities, as it's usually only larger cities with extra budget that can do this for schools," says LeBourdais.

Applications for BC Hydro community grants are being accepted now through March 31, 2021. Grants of up to $10,000 are available for organizations looking to launch or expand education programs across multiple B.C. communities. And grassroots grants of up to $2,000 are available for local community-based programs.

Get details on who's eligible and how to apply.

YouTube video features superhero Esmeralda Planet Protector in an adventure around tackling electronic waste.

How Planet Protector makes sustainability fun

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Planet Protector Academy hardly missed a beat. They were already introducing sustainability knowledge to kids in B.C. and beyond – as far away as India – via virtual quirky eco-theatre productions designed to entertain.

Ranging in topics from climate change and energy reduction to waste production and water protection, the program leans on comedy and musical performances by superheroes such as Goober, Esmeralda and Mrs. G, to deliver six one-hour lessons to classes. During the pandemic, those lessons were delivered directly to kids in their homes, via live Zoom sessions.

"We want kids to have the feeling that they're playing a part in this story, that they're planet protectors," says LeBourdais, who also takes the show on the road in live theatre performances at schools. "We want kids to care about the environment, and each week, they go home on a mission. They get points for reminding their family of changes they can make, and they get points for their team."

The idea is catching on. The program now boasts of reaching more than 50,000 students each year (in 13 countries) by working with municipal governments, school districts, foundations and companies. And for 95% of the schools involved, there's no cost.

LeBourdais says a 2020 survey taken during the pandemic, and based on questions from the World Health Organization's happiness index survey, found that 71% of kids who took part in the Planet Protector Academy Zoom programming felt it had made them more calm, and 82% said it made them feel more cheerful.

"We have this alliance of planet protectors around the world who are all making a difference," she says. "Our biggest goal is giving kids the inspiration that together, we can make a difference."

During the pandemic, you can sign up for delivery of the home edition of the Planet Protector Academy. It brings live webcasts into your home for kids ages six to 11, and includes fun arts and game-based activities.

Applications for BC Hydro community grants accepted until March 31

Know a community organization that has a program or initiative that promotes the smart use of energy and that could use extra funding? Applications for BC Hydro community grants are being accepted now through March 31, 2021.

For more energy-saving tips visit powersmart.ca.