• 24 Saint Katherine Drexel Catholic High School (SKD) students took centre stage in a mock Council meeting on June 12.
  • They were there to present innovative planning concepts for three hypothetical development sites surrounding their Ninth Line school.
  • Culminating months of study, students delved into various aspects of municipal land-use planning to craft comprehensive site plans for each location.
  • To guide their learning and better realize their planning visions, the Grade 9 students collaborated with Stouffville’s Planning Department, non-profit Urban Minds, and digital mapping firm Esri Canada.
  • Students created expansive renderings and virtual tours of their proposals using Minecraft, which were showcased for Council Members and a large attending audience.
  • Participating students gained firsthand experience in Council procedures while outlining their investigations and final plans.


The initiative was spearheaded by SKD geography teacher Cynthia Bettio, who was recently honoured with the Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching. Bettio serves as the current Department Head of Canadian and World Studies, English, Guidance, and Arts at the school.

Students meticulously considered local demographics, landscaping choices, and project budgets while utilizing Esri’s ArcGIS mapping to chart their plans. Their designs also integrated climate change mitigation strategies, including renewable energy sources like windmills and solar panels.

The classes focused on three hypothetical development sites in the vicinity of SKD: the Tree Valley lands to the west, an agricultural parcel to the south, and the Wingarten plot just south of Bethesda Sports Fields.

Visions packed with community amenities were presented, all focused on environmental sustainability and how planning can boost the mental health and well being of future residents and visitors. Proposed features included a combined café and gathering space, meditation area, multi-faith place of worship and community centre, and community gardens.

Outdoor activities also featured prominently, with parkland plans incorporating playgrounds, sports fields, exercise equipment, and extensive walking and cycling trails. Students also explored active transportation networks and how they can connect neighbouring communities.

Acknowledging Stouffville’s rapid growth, presenters emphasized the importance of additional housing and incorporated 270 single detached dwellings within the Tree Valley site. Their plans were informed by assessments of surrounding neighbourhoods and built forms and included a complete road network, sidewalks, street lighting, and traffic management solutions. Even future canine residents were represented with a proposed dog park.

Mayor Lovatt commended everyone involved at the meeting’s close: “I want to thank all of you, students and teachers. I think I can speak on behalf of Council here that we are incredibly impressed…You are our young leaders in our town. You’re not our future leaders, you are leaders, and your thinking needs to influence us.”

Lovatt noted their unique take on the planning process and encouraged them to stay engaged. “Us old folks that sit up here, we actually make the decisions,” he joked. “We need your voice, we need to listen to what you’re saying…These are things we need to have our ears open to.”

After the meeting adjourned, Bettio stood and thanked her students and fellow teachers, as well as Town Staff and Mayor Lovatt. “All of you have…provided us with such incredible tools to be able to run this innovative and exciting project for our students,” she said. “I’m very grateful.”