In this edition of ‘What Inspires Me’ we feature Helen McDonnell, Sustainability Coordinator at Strathaird Primary School.
Strathaird Primary School is a 4Star ResourceSmart School in Narre Warren South. They have been engaged in the program since the beginning of 2014 and are currently working towards becoming a 5Star Leadership school. The school has a dedicated Sustainability Coordinator role and a sustainability classroom where all students are engaged with environmental education.
1. How did you first get started with environmental education?
My school has offered Sustainability as a specialist subject since 2010. I took on the role after our previous Sustainability teacher left two years ago. I’ve always had a passion for environmental sustainability in my personal life and was excited to translate this into my professional life also.
2. What have been the biggest highlights of your journey so far?
I love that I have the opportunity to spend all day in the garden or at the frog pond with my students as part of their lessons with me. A highlight for me has also been to help our school go from a 2-star to a 4-star school and achieving modules in Waste, Water and hopefully Energy by the time this goes to print..! We have also received two grants this year to help improve our school’s biodiversity, these will go towards re-vamping our school orchard and constructing a small bushfoods garden with the Grade 5 students.
3. How do you engage with people that are not buying into the sustainability message?
I always find this challenging as I am passionate about it. I think it helps to avoid the science talk (as that tends to be what people aren’t buying in to) and instead help people to understand that taking measures to look after our planet isn’t just to prevent accelerated climate change, but is to make our planet a better and healthier place overall. I try to make sustainability as much of a positive and fun thing as I can and not focus too much on the negatives, this is especially important when working with such young children. When you start to make people feel bad about something, it just exasperates their negative attitudes or makes them feel helpless. Sustainability takes us back to the our connection with the natural world and I think that reminding people how beautiful our world is, really helps them to want to connect with it more and in turn become more sustainable towards it.
Helen and students on National Tree Day
4. Can you share a school sustainability project or story that you’ve heard about that stood out for you?
We are pretty lucky here at Strathaird Primary School and have been involved in some great projects in the past like the construction of our Endangered Eco-system garden, full of endangered Indigenous plants, as well as a Frog Pond that is an incredible resource for our students learning. Recently, having studied the Sustainable Development Goals in their Sustainability lessons with me, we had two students selected to have their video played at the G20 summit in Argentina. That was a pretty big moment for me and my school in sustainability. It’s great for our students to see that they are important in both the school’s and the world’s sustainability journey.
5. What is your favourite environmental education resource for schools?
I’m lucky enough to have inherited almost all the Gould League book collection when I took over this position. And although they may have been printed before I was even born.., the activities in them are so relevant and so much fun to do with my students. I particularly love doing the Environmental Starters activities with my students. Online, I can’t go past Cool Australia and the ABC resources like Behind the News and ABC Splash kids. The short video clips are a great way to start a conversation with my students on various topics.
6. If you could be a sustainability superhero, what name would you choose and what powers would you have to make the world more sustainable into the future?
My AP made the suggestion that I could be Dirt Girl, which is actually pretty perfect for me and I’m a huge fan of the real Dirt Girl. Although I’d still call myself a beginner, I love gardening and learning all about plants. One of my favourite things to do is teach the students the names of the plants in our school, especially the funny names like ‘Fat Hen’, ‘Prickly Moses’ and ‘Bidgee Widgee’, they always remember those. So my super power would probably be to help everyone create their own food gardens, full of seasonal produce, edible weeds, pest controlling plants and pollinator-friendly florals.
Thank you Helen for sharing your story!
Learn more about Strathaird Primary School College by visiting their website.