Community participation at Chatham Primary School

Chatham Primary School strives to encourage strong and active community participation to achieve a wide range of goals with an emphasis on processes which empower its members. This has been reflected in the school’s efforts to bring together the community in documenting the school’s own perception of wants, needs, capabilities and knowledge to construct comprehensive foundations on which to base its sustainability and environmental strategy and action.

The school believes this commitment to encourage genuine community participation in decision making has been the key factor in its achieving effectiveness and maintaining momentum of its action toward better environment and greater sustainability. The active participation by its community members has also provided the community with an improved understanding of its capabilities and stronger ownership and accountability of action. Maintaining a strong emphasis on involving the students in the process ensured that their level of confidence and a belief in the ability to make a difference was a cultivated.

This case study provides a description of methods used to bring together contribution from the various community segments.

Workshops with Students
A series of participation workshops were conducted with students. These workshops were run by parent Joanna Maidment who was studying community participation methods at the time. The workshops were aimed at obtaining the views of students about the school’s ecological status and suggestions for potential improvements. The workshops used an approach which focused student attention on existing assets and strengths, as well as problems and then encouraged thinking about possible solutions.

The workshops started with a discussion of examples of sustainable action undertaken by other schools and other conservation ideas. To assist in drawing out of a sustainability vision for the school, the students constructed visual representations of the current school environment by using a Dream Mapping method[1]. This involved sketching of a current view of the school on a large piece of paper and labeling any known structures and their functions.

In order to have a more realistic understanding of how the school operates in practice, the students conducted a ‘tour’ of the school. This enabled them to identify different ground zones, resources, buildings and facilities and to ask questions of people working at the school. The tour involved visits to the staff room, library and the canteen and focused on investigating of biodiversity, waste, energy and water.

When the students finished the tour, they finalised their Dream Maps by marking any new ideas and changes they imagined might assist the school in becoming a more sustainable environment.

When the Dream Maps were finished, individual student groups presented their ideas to the whole group. The suggested ideas were listed on the whiteboard and briefly discussed in the light of desirability and importance. The students then prioritised the ideas by voting on the ones they wanted to see implemented first.

By June 2009, two out of three most popular ideas generated by the students have been implemented by the community and include the establishment of an Environmental Notice Board and a waste segregation system for the school grounds. These have had a very empowering effect on the children by demonstrating how their ideas can become “real”, and provided considerable motivation for further activities.

Progress towards the third idea of ensuring the school grounds are a ‘lush green’ environment have been made through the purchase of water tanks and work on the expansion of garden beds. The school plans to conduct similar workshops with other grades to increase the awareness of participatory methods, as well as to gain further input from all students into the school’s sustainability planning.

Community Forums
The workshops with students produced an extensive list of ideas, with three recommended for immediate action. The student workshops were followed by forums which invited participation from staff, parents and other community members. These community forums aimed to review and compile the existing information into a formal environmental Policy and Strategic Plan. The forums included a review of the numerous activities already underway at Chatham Primary School, a review of the ideas suggested by the students and a prioritisation of action necessary to become an accredited Resource Smart School.

This feedback has been incorporated into the Chatham Primary School Sustainability Strategic Action Plan, and as a result, the school has a plan which is consistent with the community’s aspirations, ideas and values, and it provides a road map for action which has both resonance with the community and locally relevant knowledge and ideas.

[1] For further ideas for techniques useful in guidance of community participation activities refer to Somesh Kumar’s ‘Methods of Community Participation: A Complete Guide for Practitioners’, 2002, ITDG Publishing, London, UK.

By Chatham Primary School|2017-11-06T17:15:34+10:00April 25th, 2013|0 Comments