Sustaining the Sustainability Program Through Unsustainable Times!

By Loretta Leary, Mount Waverley Primary School

In 2009, Mount Waverley Primary School began our journey towards becoming an accredited Sustainable School through AuSSi (Australian Sustainable Schools Initiative). As a school we are aware that environmental education is a life-long process of learning that helps people to understand and appreciate the environment and their connection to it. An understanding of our natural, cultural and social heritage is essential for the development of environmentally informed citizens who are prepared to become involved in their community. The long-term aim of environmental education is the development of an environmental ethic that is reflected in individual and collective environmental practices. This is critical for promoting ecologically sustainable development, for improving the capacity of people to address environmental issues, now and in the future, and for effective public participation in decision-making. Integrated environmental education programs provide a meaningful context for that participation.

In planning to achieve these goals, MWPS has developed a co-ordinated whole school approach to environmental sustainability. We have:
•    identified environmentally responsible school operations, for example, energy and water conservation, waste minimisation and recycling, purchase of environmentally responsible products, managing toxic materials, wildlife habitat development and maintenance and use of school facilities as a community resource
•    provided for learning experiences that maintain and improve the quality of the school and its surroundings
•    provided a consistent and supportive climate for environmental education in the school
•    provided all classrooms and administration offices with paper recycling boxes provide all classrooms with food scrap buckets and recycling buckets for bottles and cans
•    recycled ink, toner and laser printer cartridges for a small return that has supplemented the Environment budget
•    encouraged all staff to minimise paper usage by photocopying on both sides of the paper and reducing copies where possible eg.: sharing class sets of copies with team members, shrinking A3 (or two A4) copies to one A4 and encouraging students to share copies when possible
•    lodged documents for staff on the network where possible to minimise distribution of hard copies eg. Meeting minutes, planners, newsletters
•    turned off of lights and computer monitors when the classroom is not in use for more than 15 minutes
•    ensured that computers and monitors are switched off at the end of each day and switched off at the power points over the weekends and holiday breaks
•    avoided excessive use of heaters and air conditioners, especially when classrooms will be empty for more than ½  hr
•    ensured the staffroom dishwasher is not run on less than a ¾ full load in order to minimise water wastage
•    involved students in a number of school-based activities, such as environmental auditing of school resource use, waste management and a the production of a regular State of the School Environment Report
•    established and maintain waste minimisation practices through materials recycling facilities, composting of food waste and energy-saving schemes
•    established and maintain Permaculture gardens for each year level
•    held regular Rubbish Free Lunch days (twice a term) inclusive of the state wide Rubbish Free Lunch Day Challenge
•    enhanced the environment through habitat creation and maintenance and appropriate building and landscape design, showing a commitment to sound environmental practices
•    written and implemented bi-yearly, a whole school inquiry based Environmental Sustainability curriculum.

However in 2008, building works began in the school as part of the school’s upgrade and sustaining a sustainable sustainability program became a challenge in itself. With buildings being demolished and classrooms moving from room to room, the commitment and determination of the staff and students kept all of the recycling programs running fairly smoothly. On the odd occasion a bin would be misplaced or a room not emptied of its waste but we just muddled through and worked around the building site. The most devastating part of the demolition was that our long established and well loved gardens, complete with resident possums and birds, were completely demolished. This caused much consternation amongst the students as even the possum boxes were destroyed. In protest one particularly resilient possum took up residence in our sport’s shed…he made his home inside a cricket helmet and no amount of relocating him would keep him away from his new home. Eventually the sport’s shed was too demolished and the possum was forced to move farther afield.  The garden demolition also meant that Tree Planting day was cancelled, as we had already planted out the council land that abuts our school and there were no gardens in the school to plant in. So we made special use of our newly built Permaculture gardens and had a Permaculture Planting Week. These gardens were constructed by the staff on a specially allocated day which also helped to engender a sense of ownership and cohesiveness with the Environmental Sustainability curriculum and with the nature of teamwork and community spirit.

With the onset of 2009 came the beginning of a new phase in our quest for sustainability. The first new building was opened, resplendent in its environmentally friendly features and providing a new focus for our future; beginning our journey towards becoming an accredited Sustainable School through AuSSi (Australian Sustainable Schools Initiative). However, the pitfalls of the building works were only beginning to take hold. Our worm farms had finally produced enough castings to fill up the last of the Permaculture beds with lovely compost and were ready for another year’s work. The worms were primed and eager to begin munching away at the waste food produced by the students and staff….until the second phase of the building works began. A big steel fence was erected and access to the worm farm was cut off. The Grade 4 students, caretakers of the worm farms, found themselves jobless and the school became confused as to where their food scraps were to go. As an interim measure we strongly enforced our “Bring It In Take It Home” policy and the students were encouraged to start their own compost bins at home. The building works finally took over the majority of the school grounds and classes were relocated from room to room. Maintaining their composure the Grade 3s continued to recycle the bottles and cans and the Grade 5s continued to recycle the paper and cardboard through adversity and about sixteen different school map changes. The Grade 1s and 2s recycled the water from the drinking taps until all of the taps were demolished with the buildings; except for one set. Yet they still continued to religiously visit and empty the buckets onto what was left of the gardens.

With dogged determination, we fought on to sustain the sustainability program through unsustainable times. As the building works slowed and new garden beds were designated, the students fervently took up the challenge of re-establishing the wildlife habitat gardens. This meant that Tree Planting Day this year was extended to a week’s worth of gardening. The Grade 5 & 6 students have feverishly dug holes, erected fences and overseen the rest of the students’ planting of the 350 new plants that were purchased for this project. A special mention must be made of Peter Douglas from Scotsburn Nursery for sourcing and delivering the said plants and for donating another 100 plants to help us in our quest to become a sustainable school. And just as the energy levels were waning, Kirsty Costa came in and gave us the encouragement we needed to finish off the core module and continue our quest to becoming an accredited Sustainable School through AuSSi (Australian Sustainable Schools Initiative).

In hindsight, it wasn’t so bad, but whilst in the middle of the turmoil, sustainability seemed transform itself into sheer survival….and survive we did!

By Mount Waverley Primary School|2017-11-06T17:19:11+10:00April 26th, 2013|0 Comments
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