CERES Education Interview with Caitlin MacDonald
Year 10 student at Mater Christi College, and
Ken McIntosh Memorial Award – 2015 Young Environmental Achiever of the Year, Shire of Yarra Ranges
1. How did you first get started with environmental education?
I have grown up on land in the Yarra Ranges and since I was very young, I was working in the vegetable garden, playing in the dirt and generally immersed in the outdoors.
As I grew older, I began to understand the issues facing the environment and it was a combination of my early childhood, the opportunities I was exposed to at school and support from my parents that brought about a passion for environmental education.
2. What have been the biggest highlights of your journey so far?
I really enjoyed working in a Social Justice and Environment leadership position last year in Year 9 because it gave me the opportunity to work with teachers and other students who are also passionate about the environment to organise and run events and campaigns that create a practical balance between the awareness that we create and the opportunities that we give our College community to act.The biggest highlights of my journey so far have included working as part of a passionate team of students and teachers at Mater Christi College, known as the SoJuSt Group (Social Justice and Stewardship). This group provides a powerful opportunity for students to channel their passion for the environment into helping organise, lead and ultimately participate in the wide range of exciting initiatives that we run within the College. Our group is lead by two teachers and four student leaders, and our members are an effective mix of all year levels.
Furthermore, I was privileged to win the Ken McIntosh Memorial Award for Young Environmental Achiever of the Year in the Shire of Yarra Ranges Australia Day awards this year (pictured above with the Mayor). This has lead to many exciting opportunities, such as being interviewed on live radio and speaking at a local environmental volunteers celebration event. These opportunities have enabled me to develop and enhance skills of effective communication, flexibility and fast thinking: all skills that are readily useful in my involvement with environmental awareness and my wider schooling.
3. What has been the biggest obstacle? How did you/are you overcoming it?
The biggest obstacle that our school-based environmental awareness group faces is definitely increasing the involvement of the students and wider College community, whether this involvement be through creating posters and talking to classes, attending lunchtime meetings to plan activities or simply putting rubbish in the correct bin. There are several strategies that we use in an effort to overcome this challenge such as the use of constant awareness, which is consistent in its content and message, but novel in its presentation.
For example, to encourage recycling, we would focus on one aspect of the practice such as what to put in the recycling bin and we would present this information in a variety of ways such as in videos, classroom discussions, activity days which are incorporated into the curriculum and signs for the bins. In this way, we are presenting a message common between the aforesaid ways of raising awareness.
The other method that we use to engage students in environmental awareness is to lead by example. As students we often learn best when we are taught by our peers and this idea applies to environmental education as much as it does to school subjects. For example, students collect compost from our peers at recess and engage in conversation along the way about why and how composting is important. We also run an annual community Fair Trade and ethical produce market called FairGo and a week known as SoJuSt week which is filled with environment-based activities.
4. What future plans or goals are you excited about?
During last year, I was part of a team that collected 725 signatures against the coal developments in the Great Barrier Reef. While collecting signatures, I noticed a lot of genuine disgust and despair in the people that I spoke to. This disgust and concern was most noticeable at school where we collected roughly three quarters of our signatures. This is just one example of how this generation of young people are beginning to understand climate change as a global issue and how we can work toward mitigating the effects.
I plan to continue to work with our school-based SoJuSt group to support existing initiatives and explore the possibility for new initiatives and programs. I would like to focus my attention toward engaging more of my peers in environmental education and awareness, first and foremost because it is lots of fun to be involved with, and also because it is incredibly important.
Working as part of an environmental education team of students and teachers is interesting, fun and means that I am readily given the opportunity to meet new people of different ages, backgrounds and schools, attend events and conferences and even dress up as a carrot to promote composting! Through being a part of environmental education, I have made lots of friends and been exposed to many opportunities which motivate me to continue being a part of the excitement that is environmental education!
5. What advice would you offer to someone wanting to begin a sustainability program at their school or organisation?
The most important consideration to make with regard to environmental education, regardless of who it is designed to target, is how it can be made engaging, interesting and relevant to peoples’ lives. Without these vital connections, environmental education simply falls into the backdrop of fast-paced lives.
Though it seems patronizing to have to make environmental education fun, relevant and interesting, it is necessary in order to make at least an initial connection with the people you are targeting. Then, this connection and understanding can be built on.
I believe that a sustainability education program needs to be lead by a team of strong leaders who can identify with the people the program is intended to target. Every person involved must have the determination to inspire themselves and others into action, and the ability to have fun while doing this. Those who envision change must also have the tenacity to withstand the resistance that environmental awareness and measures for conservation are often met with. Environmental change is a long, sustained effort that very rarely involves instant gratification for hard work or a change implemented in your daily life. However, we must understand it is through these long-term measures that we will achieve environmental sustainability.
Above all, we must lead by example to show that environmental sustainability is practical, necessary and relatively easy to include in our daily lives before we can expect others to follow suit.
CERES Education would like to thank Caitlin for sharing her story.
Read more about the SoJuSt Group on the Mater Christi College website