In 2015, one very special school embarked on three-year-long journey to become an Enviroschool.
School News spoke to Discovery School’s principal, Carmen Jennings, and environment science leader, Natalie Packer, about their treemendous efforts and the impact that becoming an Enviroschool has had on students.
Garden treasure and green teams
Natalie told us the charming tale of how it all began: “A lovely new entrant teacher donated a worm farm to our school and had it up-and-running for her classroom. When I inherited the care and upkeep of this little garden trinket, a whole new world opened up for the school. My class and I began looking at the world of worms and how to take care of these wriggly creatures and the snowball began to roll.
“A group of students soon showed interest in the gardens around the school and The Green Team was born. We have now gathered every Tuesday lunchtime since term one, 2015.
“Over the last three years, there have been many projects, inquiries and student-led research, showing how different areas of the school could be enhanced to further learning. By listening to students’ ideas and reaching out to the community for guest speakers and help with learning, the students have transformed this school into an Enviroschool with their rising passion for Papatuanuku, Native New Zealand bird and wildlife, and their curiosity.”
A treemendous school makeover
Every year, four New Zealand schools win $10,000 grants to transform their school grounds and landscape up to 600 square metres of school grounds into educational space with native trees and plants.
Dubbed the ‘Treemendous School Makeover’ event, it is a joint initiative between the Mazda Foundation and Project Crimson that teaches children about the importance of caring for the environment through the development of outdoor classrooms. Natalie championed Discovery School’s successful grant proposal.
“With designs and ideas from the students, teachers and research, I wrote an award winning grant. Project Crimson and the Mazda Foundation awarded us to transform our school bank from unused space into three outdoor classroom spaces. On Saturday May 2, 2016, school children, whanau, board members, PTA families, and friends from the Whitby community came together for the morning to help with the final installations of all the plants and finishing touches of our makeover.
“We now have outdoor seating to house an entire syndicate in one of our three outdoor classroom areas. We have planted an orchard with seating, which has a dozen fruit and citrus trees that are now bearing fruit for our students to pick and enjoy. We planted over 700 natives, constructed a lizard garden, installed student painted murals, landscaped using boulders, natives and a special playmat walkway up our memorial slide. Students also painted and hung bird houses and tui feeders in the trees and weta hotels were introduced to entice wildlife into the school grounds.
Community ties and bug guests
Rudd Kleinpaste, known as the bug man, visited Discovery School to give professional development to the staff and lead a huge assembly. He worked with students for the rest of the day, and returned with all of the Mazda, Project Crimson and community volunteers on May 2, to dig, plant, water and get dirty!
“The learning in and around a giant project like this is tenfold, with all the families involved in the care and nurturing of our bank, it was a huge changing moment for our school community with people working collaboratively for this wonderful project,” Natalie recalled.
“It really brought our community together.
“We celebrate our Treemendous Anniversary each year. Last year it fell on our Friendship Interaction Day, where the whole student population divided into small groups and rotated around the staff for different activities and learning. That day, all the children rotating through my section helped plant more native trees in other areas of the school. Our SENCO, with the support of the Student Council, formed a ‘friendship bench’ for students wanting a friend to play with.
“This year is a Treemendous Anniversary Working Bee Day that will be on a smaller scale than our original Treemendous Working Bee but with invitations to all our school community especially those who joined us in 2016 to return and laugh, learn, and dig in the dirt planting, cultivating and caring for our precious outdoor spaces. We hope this event is maintained for many years, as it is a great way to bring our community together for the benefit of not only our school grounds but for the connections everyone makes with others working alongside them.”
Caretaking and taking care
One of the striking impacts that becoming an Enviroschool has had on students, according to Natalie, has been a change in attitude towards the school grounds. “The children are taking more pride in looking after their school grounds than five years ago when I started as a teacher here.
“Sustainability is key and the ETT, Enviro Teacher Team, and I put ‘sustainability’ first. Education for sustainability is a philosophy that I hope stays integrated in the school community as the school continues to grow and evolve in the education arena.”
Principal Carmen added: “Today, we have 453 students attending our school, from new entrants through to year 8. Over the past few years we have had a focus on ‘growth mindset’ and ‘student agency’. Syndicates might use a sustainability theme within their planning, taking them beyond our school to label drains for our local council, create murals with an artist on an area prone to graffiti, pick up rubbish on the local walkways and beaches, plant trees at a local park with other schools or take action for water, produce a ‘Go Green’ newspaper, collaborations with kindy for bush walks, council action groups redesigning future educational spaces, etc.”
As Natalie revealed, “This is a school where the children show more concern, pride and awareness. They know their actions have an impact on a larger scale. I am very proud of what all the students are learning directly and indirectly as a result of the staff using Enviroschool resources to support quality programmes.”
One of my favourite things…
“Nothing makes me happier than to see teachers following their passions and engaging their students along the way, creating new passion and excitement in students,” Carmen told School News. “I am so fortunate to be working in a school where teachers give their time generously to stimulate our tamariki.
“Whether it be Natalie and her teaching colleagues, running the Green Team, or the teachers with other passions (like the arts, computer coding, robotics, or sports) running our lunchtime clubs… Without input from teachers, our school would not be the vibrant place that it is with so much on offer to our students, no matter what their interests.
“Every day, something special takes place here!”
“One of my favourite things is to see our juniors join with the kindergarten next door, go bushwalking, exploring and creating in the natural world. More recently, the juniors got our senior students involved, inviting them to join in on the bush walk, play and observations. The younger generation are far more aware of looking after our planet than my generation is, and they are the ones who will protect it for future generations.”
A sentiment echoed by Natalie: “These young people are the voters of the next generation and if they can take life skills from the bits and pieces we offer them along the way here at Discovery School, then it is my honour to provide what I can.”
What does it mean to become an enviroschool?
Natalie believes that the process has been the next step in a journey that came from student interest. “Student-led agency is a growing foundation at our school and I believe the children over the last three years who have come to me with ideas, questions and collaborated with me to learn, has catapulted us to where we are today.”
It’s not ‘an extra thing to teach’
“In a profession of stress, high expectations and challenges along the way I feel the Enviroschool program, resources and what we do to feed the student’s passions in and around the vast knowledge that nature can provide, feeds excitement and helps to extinguish some of the ongoing pressures.
“This is a recognition of what our school provides for New Zealand children, it is not an ‘extra thing to teach’.
Interested in becoming an Enviroschool?
Carmen offered some words of wisdom: “Start one step at a time and you will be surprised how quickly the enviro-bubble of influence grows, but make sure the teacher leading it has passion, so that they light passions in others. Take baby steps and don’t expect to change your practise overnight, or feel that ‘changing’ to become an Enviroschool is needed. Every school, teacher and classroom is on their own journey each year.
“Incorporate one thing a term and see what is ‘sustainable’ for you and your practise.
“There is a lot of research out there that tells us that children learn easier, retain more and find connections with nature. To quote some Porirua children, “there is no ‘Planet B’”, so unless the children of today and tomorrow fall in love and have a passion for our planet and the influences humans have on our Earth, it will not be sustainable.”