October 15, 2014
Ontario education minister Liz Sandals was shown the amazing SHSM horticulture and landscaping program at Notre Dame Secondary School in Burlington by teacher Allan Nason.
Ontario education minister Liz Sandals was shown the amazing SHSM horticulture and landscaping program at Notre Dame Secondary School in Burlington by teacher Allan Nason.
The Specialist High Skills Majors Program (SHSM) is described as a long-term and sustainable solution to industries’ need for a qualified and competent workforce.

On Sept. 3, Ontario Education Minister Liz Sandals confirmed that statement with a visit to Notre Dame Secondary School in Burlington, to make the announcement that the Ontario government will expand the program.

After her formal announcement, Sandals toured the high school’s horticulture and landscaping program, led by teacher Al Nason. “It was a great moment, not just for the program and school, but it made the kids in the program feel important,” said Nason.

The SHSM program involves grade 11 and 12 students, who take a bundle of eight to ten course credits that focus on a career of their choice. The horticulture and landscaping program is just one of many SHSM programs available to students.

Sandals told those present on Sept. 3 that SHSM in Ontario has expanded by 2,000 students and 125 programs for the 2014-15 school year, involving more than 44,000 students in 1,685 programs. “For 2014-15, the government is investing $25.3 million in SHSMs,” said the education minister.

Across Ontario, there are 29 SHSM horticulture and landscaping programs, with a projected enrolment of approximately 490 students. The program includes nine grade 11 and grade 12 credits. There are four horticulture and landscaping major credits, one English credit, one math credit and one credit in either science or business studies focused on horticulture and landscaping. There are also two co-operative education credits to gain workplace experience.

Nason says that the co-op program is the toughest to fill. “The program doesn’t fit well with landscaping companies’ schedule,” says Nason. He points out that when the students are ready to take the co-op positions, most green industry companies are in the slow time of year.

man helping a student use a large rototillerAllan Nason is a hands-on teacher in the SHSM horticulture program.
Also on hand during the minister’s tour was LO executive director Tony DiGiovanni. “The SHSM program is wonderful, because it gives students the opportunity to try out different occupations. It is also highly practical and provides experiential learners the opportunity to excel,” said DiGiovanni.

He went on to say that the horticulture and landscaping program has already made a positive difference in raising awareness for the career potential of our industry. “Young students are turned on by the opportunities. Many are graduating from high school with their horticultural designation and then moving on to the college and apprenticeship level and finally out to the industry. I have seen first-hand how the program has changed many lives for the better.”

Nason is a leader among the 29 horticulture SHSM programs, and he has the plaques and honours to prove it. In 2013, he received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, awarded to only 2,000 residents of Ontario. At the time, Halton Catholic District School Board honoured Nason, saying, “Allan Nason creates an environment in which at risk youth can achieve a successful and meaningful high school experience.”

At this year’s Awards of Excellence ceremony, Nason was presented with the High School Horticulture Educator of the Year Award.

Nason knows his subject. He worked five years at Connon Nurseries/CBV and seven with Connon Nurseries/NVK before entering the teaching ranks.

“Coming with a background in the industry made it an easy fit for me,” says Nason. “I understand the issues facing the industry and what my students can expect to find when they enter it.”

One area that he says needs improving is the perception of the industry with the public. “I have had parents express concerns that they don’t want their child to go into the horticulture industry and be faced with working only part of the year.” He says the public doesn’t understand that this industry has many employment opportunities that are year-round, challenging and well paid.

Nason says he was very pleased to see how “turned on” the education minister was to the Notre Dame SHSM program. He said that the minister said that the Notre Dame set-up was unique in her travels across the province. “This is the first one I’ve seen with an aquaponics program,” she stated.

three men on stage, one holding and awardAt the 2014 Awards of Excellence ceremony, Allan Nason received the Educator of the Year Award. Presenters were Victor Santacruz, executive director of CNLA, left, and LO past president Phil Charal.
The school’s aquaponics is housed the school’s greenhouse, combining a food production system with hydroponics. Nason and his students raise tilapia fish in a 500 gallon tank. Both algae from the tanks and fish droppings are used to fertilize the plants. The school has applied for a licence to become a fish farm.

Two Landscape Ontario members, DenBok Landscaping and Design in Burlington and Gelderman Landscape Services in Waterdown, assist the program through loaning equipment and expertise. “Both these companies are essential to the program thriving,” says Nason.

Asked how LO members could help with the SHSM program, Nason said they should become involved with the Adopt a High School program.

This program allows landscape and nursery businesses to connect with young people by adopting a local high school. Its purpose is to inform high school students and educators about career opportunities in the landscape business and let them know that the green industry offers many challenging, full-time, prosperous career paths.

The Ministry of Education lists a number of job opportunities in the industry, including golf courses, tree service, parks operation, landscape architect, horticulturalist, botanist, greenhouse worker and landscaper. Information on the program is available at http://gfl.me/x2h6.

Nason says that the program allows us to bring the green industry into his classroom. More information and registration forms are available at http://gfl.me/x2h5.

Nason asked LO members to call their local MPP to advocate for the program. “Members can let their MPP know about our industry and how your local school should include a horticulture SHSM program. Doing this, is a simple way to give this industry a bigger voice.”

A special event, planned for SHSM students on Oct. 23 at the University of Guelph, will provide an opportunity to earn two certificates for a student’s major. Students in the horticulture program will discover career and academic opportunities. This event costs $10, and includes two certificates, lunch and parking. It is recommended for Grade 11 and 12 university-bound students in SHSM. For more information on the program, go to http://gfl.me/x2h7.