I’ve joined the Environment Committee at my daughter’s primary school. I can not help myself. When it comes to educating children about the environment, our impact on it and how we can help to reduce our pressure on the planet, I want to be invloved. I love seeing their little minds explode when you try to explain where an egg comes from, why worms and bees are so important and why it’s important to add cow poo to the soil to make plants grow. We aren’t full blown self-sufficient types at home. We do a bit of recycling, grow some vegies, compost, put on a jumper instead of the heater, turn off lights and power points when not in use etcetera (I am still working on remembering to take our reusable bags to the shops…*must remember*). It will be so beneficial to kids, teachers and families to have ideas like this reinforced at school.
Overall it’s pretty overwhelming. The school is lucky enough to have a lot of open, grassed areas. We figure by starting off with little ideas and ensuring we have a sturdy framework for planning, we should see a pretty healthy return on investment (look at me – it’s so hard for me to let go of the office lingo). We need to consult with the whole school community. The school’s current involvement in environmental programs extends to EnvironKids and WaterWatch and even then only a small number of students are involved. Using our own initiative and resources (including the children) gives the school a much stronger sense of ownership of the project . It’s important we go at our own pace and work out a program that suits our school’s needs, it’s current resources and priorities.
First up, a little group of parents and a teacher from our school thought it best to go on a field trip of some local schools that have already introduced a practical environmental education program. Hamilton PS is a compact inner-city primary school of 230+ students. I had already heard of their school garden supplying a local (and my favourite) café in Newcastle with herbs from their beds. There were a couple of things that really stood out for me as the Principal took us on a tour of the grounds. Firstly, programs like this tend to be cyclical. The idea behind their vegetable garden was that should a new Principal or P&C body decide to shift the school’s focus away from the garden, so be it. The garden wasn’t so heavily invested in infrastructure to make it a permanent feature. Everything could be removed in a day or two. Secondly, it’s important to start small. Hamilton PS has built up their gardens over the last six years. What began as four garden beds has grown to include a dry river bed, fairy garden, outdoor cinema grounds, a power-generating bike and boxed orchard. Thirdly, without the support of the school community whose donations of time and materials have essentially built the vegetable garden, you are fighting an uphill battle. That being said, there was also a sense of ‘if you build it, they will come’. It’s getting the balance between the two that’s important.
Next we visited Mayfield East PS. What the Principal here reiterated was the importance of starting off small and building a garden around the needs of the school. They started off building a garden with the main aim of educating children about where food comes from. The Principal identified that a lot of the success of the garden due to ‘the stars aligning’. With the school being granted funds from the Federal Government for a new hall, it freed up space for the kitchen / dining / art space built with funds from another grant. Mayfield East’s grounds are a lot larger than Hamilton PS and so they have pockets of activity all over the grounds. From the grafted grape vines at the front gate (which acts as a teaser to what’s inside) to an ancient lemon tree in the old school yard, to a mud-brick pizza oven, to a shaded seed-germinating workspace, to the chook shed. Whatever produce can be harvested and is not required by the school for classes is sold to families on a Friday afternoon (including the eggs), providing a revenue stream to continue growing the garden.
Both schools demonstrated really clever ways of reusing materials (filing cabinets and suitcases for beds), an unwavering passion for providing a rounded, interesting and supportive learning environment. We walked away very inspired by their efforts.
Now, to just get it happening at our school…
I’d love to hear from any of you that are involved in a school environment / garden project. Success stories and failures equally welcome.Share this on: