Many wins from saving Earth, teachers told

Kerri Carr

Aldavilla Public Schools' waste audit conducted before the inaugural Nude Food/ Healthy Living Day

Student outcomes and behaviour benefit from environmental education projects in addition to the earth, a Centre for Professional Learning conference heard last month.

Educators with a passion for the environment shared how they have introduced eco-concepts and brought students and the school community along with them.

The conference addressed how to get a school community on board with implementing a meaningful environmental education program.

“People’s eyes would glaze over when they heard I was coming to talk to them about environmental education, so I would go in and say to them, ‘You’d like to know how they increase the growth levels in literacy and numeracy in their school?’ and they’d all put their hand up. ‘You’d like to save a lot of money in their global budget, to spend it on things that really matter?’ They all put their hand up,” retired principal Andy Best said.

Mr Best said cross-curriculum priorities in the NSW syllabus for the National Curriculum provide teachers with great opportunity to help make a better planet:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures — “That’s really, really important because there’s so much wisdom to be learnt”
  • Asia and Australia’s Engagement with Asia
  • Sustainability — “It links the curriculum in every key learning area to so many authentic learning experiences for kids. I think that also really equips us as teachers to say we have the authority to do something.”

He challenged teachers to ask what was being done about sustainability at their school’s next planning conference.

Student engagement

Environmental education and sustainability have big hooks for students, Aldavilla Public School principal David Munday said. “It’s got legs for all the kids, including primary and secondary.

“You will never remember a maths lesson, but [you will remember] the day you built a geodesic dome.”

Mr Munday said student behaviour and the environment “absolutely go hand-in-hand”.

“This will change your kids — absolutely no risk,” he added.

Teacher Darren Martin said environmental education provides many hands-on learning experiences for students.

“We’ve all got those children in our classrooms for whom, for one reason or another, the classroom setup just doesn’t work. Often those kids have really, really good ideas. They’ve got really good problem-solving skills. These kids have a lot to offer and this hands-on approach is right up their alley. It provides a lot of meaningful opportunities for them so they feel they can play an active part in school,” he said.

Mr Best recounted how a group of disengaged students switched to having an interest in their learning after being given the responsibility to look after a bush area that would go on to become the school’s learnscape area. They cleaned up the area, put in paths and mulched.

“It was a wonderful way to see things turn around,” he said.

Learning outcomes

Mr Best told how one of his schools went from being below the state average for literacy and numeracy to achieving growth rates one-and-a-half times above the state average within three years.

“The only big difference we could see was we started to have authentic learning experiences based around environmental education,” Mr Best said.

“We engaged our kids a lot more meaningfully in their learning by getting them outside and getting them looking at things that were really important to them.”

Saving money

Mr Best told how students at one of his schools had been given the facts about climate change and global warming and challenged to do something about it.

“In one year they reduced our utilities bill and our trade waste bill by $10,000,” Mr Best said.

“They go home and tell their parents 'We can save money too' so it has a ripple effect,” he added.

Mr Munday said community engagement increases with the introduction of environmental projects: helping with materials, skills, time and labour. “We’ve had 150 separate volunteers in the school this year — it’s just really great engagement from the community that we didn’t see before.”

He also said environmental projects help with promoting the school. “You get such good photos and stories,” he said.

Click here for PDF of this story.

A SCHOOL'S JOURNEY TOWARDS SUSTAINABILITY

At the start of 2008, Aldavilla Public School embarked upon a plan to become more environmentally responsible.

Principal David Munday said initial discussion with staff considered:

  • developing units of study to support students’ understanding of current environmental and sustainability issues
  • trying to create projects within the school that are ongoing after the initial start-up of grants of seeding funds
  • utilising the student parliament and student leaders as the driving force.

The school’s student parliament showed interest in how the school could reduce its carbon footprint, water usage and electricity consumption plus create opportunities for additional biodiversity.

“Students planted an orchard containing citrus, native bush tucker and exotic fruits.

"The main idea was for the students to manage the orchard and harvest the fruit to create a pathway to raise funds to ensure the activities would be ongoing and not reliant on continuing grants,” Mr Munday said.

This year, the school has saved (compared to 2014) $4200 on electricity, $1200 on trade waste and made $600 from selling produce from the school gardens every Thursday afternoon at the parent trading table. That $5000 will be allocated towards the school’s environment team budget for 2017.

Already, the Environment Team has planned to use these savings to purchase every new kindergarten student a nude food lunchbox.

“The actions undertaken by the school have significantly changed the environmental and sustainability awareness of the school, local community and community of schools,” Mr Munday said.

ASSETS FOR TEACHERS

  • Suburb-based climate projection maps for 2060-2079 are available from the Adapt NSW website. University of NSW Associate Professor Jason Evans said the site provides forecasts on temperature, rainfall, fire, heat and cold nights.
  • The Eco-Schools program (visit its website here) aims to empower students to be the change for sustainability that our world needs by engaging, fun-
    orientated and socially responsible activities and learning opportunities, participants to a workshop presented by Camden Park Environmental Education Centre principal Brian Trench and teacher Darren Martin heard.
  • Environmental Education Centres across NSW are available to offer teachers assistance.