Recipient of Meritorious Service Medal from the Governor General of Canada visits campus
Stella Bowles was interviewed by Yanik Gallie in The Xaverian Weekly newsroom on February 5, 2019. Bowles was on campus hosting an address to Bachelor of Education students with a focus in Business. Bowles was invited to speak of her entrepreneurial skills and how to support non-traditional student learning. My River: Cleaning up the LaHave River is a book by Bowles written with Anne Laurel Carter available for purchase at Chapters, Amazon, and local bookshops across Canada.
YG: How did you meet Carter?
SB: She presented herself as an author wanting to write a book about my work. She came over for a cup of tea, we had tea and talked. We decided it would be a good idea to write the first couple chapters and see if a publisher picks up the book. Formac Publishing Company Limited picked up the book, so she wrote the rest.
YG: Describe a typical workshop for the book with Carter.
SB: Anne wrote the book from my perspective. There was a lot of sending notes back and forth to change things. Because she lives in Toronto, we had to FaceTime to talk. Sometimes it would be talking about my day because she needed to become me to write the book. She was in Hawaii once when we were FaceTiming. She was asking about how I would structure my sentences. When I proofread the drafts, I recognized things I said. There’s a lot of proofreading involved. Even if you read a page, you have to go back and read it again. Sending emails is a big part of the work too. She captured my voice.
YG: What’s your advice to students?
SB: You can make a difference no matter your age. Your age shouldn’t define what you can and cannot do. If you talk to your parents or a mentor, you can get somebody to help you. You can accomplish just about anything.
YG: What’s your advice to teachers?
SB: I think classrooms need more hands-on learning. I don’t like traditional school. It’s boring. If you do an activity or workshop, students retain more information than they would if they were reading from a textbook. Science is fun; I learned that with my project.
YG: How can teachers better support students?
SB: Care. Any kind of acknowledgement is nice. They don’t have to throw a party but saying something positive with constructive advice is important to students. Don’t shut down questions if students are interested in an unfamiliar topic either. Guide students and help them find a resource, teacher or mentor to engage with their interest.
YG: Can you share the story about your sign?
SB: I’m a little stubborn (chuckles). My sign was up to show that the river was contaminated with fecal bacteria and the municipality called me asking to take the sign down. I said, “No.” They called again and asked, “When are you going to take it down?” I said, “As soon as the program starts and the first hole is done for a septic system, I’ll take it down.” They called me again later and invited me to the digging ceremony for the septic system where we took some pictures then I took my sign down.
YG: You recently announced a partnership with Bluenose Coastal Action Foundation. How did it happen?
SB: It happened through the prize money I was winning from different organizations. We decided to have a partnership and create kits that provide students with equipment for them to test their own waterways.
This partnership is showing that kids can make a difference and science can be fun. The kits are about $600 each, and that provides equipment to test for about a year. I have a few groups in Nova Scotia and three groups in Sweden who are using the kits.
YG: What is your message to communities in Canada that have straight pipes dumping into waterways?
SB: Straight pipes are 100% illegal in Canada. They are not grandfathered in by law and that should be enforced. I don’t see how it’s right to be putting sewage and toilet paper down the toilet directly into our waterways. When I was getting a sample, we found needles along the shore. Anything being flushed ends up in our waterways. If someone steps on a needle, it’s dangerous.
YG: Mayor Rachel Bailey of Lunenburg questioned the validity of your Lunenburg water results.
SB: I was curious. I wanted to know what Lunenburg’s contamination level was and it was bad. I posted the results and the mayor was not happy. She questioned the validity of my results. I went to Acadia university and we did tests with variables to validate my experiment. Half of my samples are tested by me and half are tested by an accredited laboratory. The results turned out to be accurate.
YG: How do you modify your presentation for a specific audience?
SB: I present to people in primary and secondary classes, university, and nursing homes. It’s interesting because I’m always presenting in a different way and adapting my speech. If I talk to little kids, I’ll say, “There’s poop in the river.” They’ll react by trying to fix the problem. When people get older, it’s all about tax money going towards fixing the problem and funding. It’s fascinating how people’s perspectives change as they get older.
YG: How did you get in touch with researchers in Sweden?
SB: Jennie Larsson came to work with Coastal Action for a month over the summer. We got in contact with her and we went to one of her conferences in Halifax. She said it would be great to have a partnership with us.
I went to Sweden this December right after the Walk of Fame. It was a cool experience being in the classrooms in Sweden. All the kids get fed healthy meals at the schools. They were eating cream fish and food that nobody would ever go near at my school.
YG: Considering how Sweden is running their education system, how can we improve our system?
SB: Technology in the classroom is not going away. It bothers me when teachers lock everything down on a Chromebook. Have a little more trust in students. We need to have a conversation in the classroom about how to properly respect the internet and use the technology.
YG: What’s your takeaway from being the first recipient of Canada’s Walk of Fame Community Hero Award?
SB: I think it’s a good opportunity to spread my message further. It really gets the message out that our waters aren’t clean, and we need to step up our game on that situation. It’s great to be winning, but I’m not doing it for the awards.
YG: During your acceptance speech you mention Dr. David Maxwell is a mentor. How is he an exemplary teacher?
SB: He provided me with testing equipment. I was able to publish my results. Being an 11-year-old kid testing water and saying it’s dirty, a lot of people would question what I was talking about. Dr. Maxwell helped to validate my work.
He likes to ask me a lot of questions and makes me think critically. He still goes back to things I didn’t know when I was 11 and asks me to explain it to him now.
YG: What was a most memorable moment from Canada’s Walk of Fame?
SB: They cut out the best part of Canada’s Walk of Fame from airtime. I didn’t know who Kurt Browning was and I was told to walk fast to my seat because I had gone to the bathroom during a commercial break when Kurt said, “Are you Stella Bowles?” I said, “Yep.” I kept walking to my seat. He got on stage and made a joke that I am the most intimidating person he ever met and that I could get any politician’s money (chuckles).
Also, because my award was associated with the Toronto Maple Leafs, they gave me a jersey signed by the whole team with my name embroidered on the back. In a few weeks, they’re flying the family to see a Toronto Maple Leafs game which I’m excited to attend.