Kids to run new environmental education project in Taupō

Issue: Volume 93, Number 20

Posted: 10 November 2014
Reference #: 1H9csL

A new environmental education project starting in Taupō next year will be led by the students it educates and empowers.

Kids Greening Taupō is an 18-month project involving five local schools, based on the Kids Restore the Kepler project in Fiordland. Kids Restore the Kepler is a conservation project with a difference. As well as having conservation goals – the project aims to bring back birds that have become rare in the area – there is a strong education focus.

The Taupō project aims to transfer the key ingredients of Kids Restore the Kepler to introduce greater biodiversity into the local Taupō urban setting.

The Taupō project is associated with a new community conservation initiative, Greening Taupō – a collaboration between the community, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, the Department of Conservation (DOC), local schools, businesses, and the district council.

Greening Taupō’s objective is to improve the Taupō environment for people and native wildlife. This involves restoration planting and pest control to create ecological corridors, allowing native birds to flourish. Particular attention in this regard will be focused on access routes in and out of Taupō, which will create a sense of arrival for visitors to Taupō.

A team from Taupō – which included two secondary school teachers, the Greening Taupō Coordinator, and staff from DOC – headed south to Te Anau to check out the Kids Restore the Kepler project.

Led by DOC’s outreach and education manager Sarah Murray, the team examined Kids Restore the Kepler in action, looking for ways in which the programme could be transplanted into a northern urban environment.

Five schools from the Taupō area – Tauhara College, Taupō Primary, Waipahihi Primary, Hinemoa Kindergarten, and Four Seasons Kindergarten – have now committed to the 18-month project.

The first teacher workshop was held in Taupō in the October school holidays to prepare for the 2015 school year and students will be involved from term 1 next year through to the middle of 2016.

More than 20 teachers from the five schools involved gave up the last day of the October school holidays to be involved in preparing for the project.

Bay Boocock of Hinemoa Kindergarten likened the project to the life cycle of the tree.

“We’ve been given a seed to plant and the children will be able to grow the tree. It will flourish, the seeds will drop and through the children the process will start again. This will go on for generations to come.”

An appealing feature of the project, says Richelle McDonald, deputy principal of Taupō Primary School, is the focus on inquiry learning and action outcomes: “doing something that means something”.

There are also great opportunities for sector-wide and community collaboration. Everyone will be working together: kindergartens, primary schools, high schools and the community.

Waikato University Master of Education student Thea Depetris will undertake research working alongside the pilot, measuring and monitoring its success.

What is Kids Restore the Kepler?

Imagine a 3000 hectare piece of prime habitat made safe for New Zealand birds, insects, lizards, and bats. Think about a reserve that happens to also be on one of the country’s internationally renowned great walks. Now imagine the impetus behind this restoration project being the young people of New Zealand, who will take a passion for the preservation of our environment with them as they become the driving force in our society.

Led by the Fiordland Conservation Trust (with funding from Kids Restore New Zealand), the schools taking part in Kids Restore the Kepler are Fiordland College (Year 7–13), Te Anau, and Mararoa Primary Schools, and two early childhood centres, Southern Stars and Fiordland Kindergarten.

The project aims to help Fiordland’s young people, from preschool through to college, develop knowledge, values, and skills so they can be confident, connected and actively involved in caring for their environment.

Students working on the Kids Restore the Kepler project get involved with a wide range of cross-curricular learnings that are transferable to any location in New Zealand. These have included:

  • Collecting beech seed, which is then sent to Lincoln University as research source material.
  • Working with DOC biodiversity rangers and community trappers in learning to set, monitor and maintain a pest control trap line.
  • Students have given guided tours to visiting school groups at the Te Anau Wildlife Centre.
  • Te Anau Primary School and Fiordland Kindergarten have collaborated on a native planting project.
  • Students from three of the schools have worked together to set up night vision cameras to assess the movement of cats at the park entrances.
  • A range of e-learning has been integrated into the schools’ curricula, including the design of a logo and upgrade and maintenance of a website.
  • Business studies students from Fiordland College won a contract to construct over 400 trap boxes for the project.

Through participation in the project, students are discovering the things that make the Kepler area special, but more importantly, they are discovering what it takes to protect these special things.

This project goes beyond a limited programme of learning, says Sarah Murray.

“These students are pioneers and their work, to bring back the bird song and keep it, will continue for generations to come.”

Schools have an excellent opportunity to utilise the project as a real context for learning across a range of subjects, says Sarah.

“Conservation after all isn’t just about controlling the pests. A broad spectrum of skill is needed to contribute to the overall success of the project. No matter what a child’s interests and skills, they are all required and valued.”

The uniqueness of the Kepler

Restoration projects of this size typically occur on off-shore islands, which provide an important ‘life raft’ sanctuary for New Zealand’s threatened species.

Usually these environments are inaccessible to the majority of people to experience or contribute to.

The Kepler Peninsula is different. While stoats, rats, possums, and cats have had a devastating impact on native plants and animals, the area is still home to kiwi, whio (blue duck), bats (pekapeka), and is one of the best sites in New Zealand for native yellow mistletoe. The whole area is enclosed by one of the country’s great walks, providing easy access.

The project’s principal sponsor is Kids Restore New Zealand, part of the Air NZ Environment Trust, which encourages leadership in young people through involvement in environmental issues. The projects they fund cover a wide range of activities and students are able register their interest in being a recipient of funding for a project at any time.

Kids Restore the Kepler ambassador Ruud Kleinpaste – the iconic ‘Bug Man’ – says Kids Restore the Kepler is a big step in the right direction.

“If we are serious about restoring our New Zealand, we have to be serious about the control of introduced predators. There’s no way our native animals can thrive with these carnivores sharing their habitat.”

An education guide is available to support teachers in integrating the learning opportunities afforded by the programme.

“We don’t want this to be a ‘bolt-on’ to a school’s programme; we’d like to see it embedded in the school curriculum,” says Jo Marsh, education coordinator for Kids Restore the Kepler.

The two early childhood centres involved use their local natural environment as part of their everyday approach to teaching and learning. Fiordland Kindergarten is in fact known as a world leader for their ‘Nature Discovery’ programme.

Fiordland Kindergarten’s head teacher Claire Maley-Shaw knows that children “need to love the earth before we ask them to care about it and protect it. We know that for learning experiences to work they need to be relevant, contextual and project based with real-world outcomes.”

A nationwide responsibility – and privilege

Sarah Murray says DOC has tried to create best practice conservation education programmes and resources, with authentic contexts for teaching and learning, and strong curriculum links. This will help to reinforce the idea among young people that we are all responsible for the maintenance and preservation of New Zealand’s natural environment, she says.

“We need to get away from the old ‘dial-a-ranger’ model [when the environment needs attention], and work towards empowering teachers, their students and parents to get involved in programmes that generate quality education outcomes, as well as quality environmental outcomes.”

“We think that Kids Restore the Kepler is a good example of best practice environmental education in New Zealand. We want to be able to learn from it, and adapt it for other locations, particularly urban landscapes.”

Ngāti Tūwharetoa Māori Trust Board environmental manager Dylan Tahau says the board plans to support the project by helping to grow cultural understanding of the environment, through the concept of tuakana-teina, an integral part of traditional Māori society. Akin to a ‘buddy’ system, tuakana-teina originally entailed on older cousin or sibling guiding the development of a younger family member, of the same gender. In an educational context, this relationship can be reversed: for example, a student who yesterday was the expert on te wā and explained the lunar calendar may need to learn from her classmate today about how manaakitanga (hospitality) is practised by the local hapū.

“We will grow cultural environmental leadership through the students, who will then pass on that cultural view to younger students,” says Dylan.

Kids Restore the Kepler takes a cross-curricular approach, using ‘restoration at place’ (the Kepler Peninsula) to provide an authentic context for teaching and learning. The project also hands leadership – and ownership – of the project to the students.

The professional development site visit to Te Anau by the team from Taupō was about schools collaborating and learning from each other, says Sarah, teachers learning from students and other teachers, as well as examining best practice and working out how the programme can be transferred to an urban environment.

Between now and early 2015, the Taupō working party will be busy getting the project underway, running another teacher workshop later in the year and looking at funding to appoint an education coordinator for the project, and to be able to eventually transplant this project into other urban areas.

“What we have here is a solution for the future of conservation. These kinds of projects are the new normal for our kids. It’s inspiring, it’s a new way of teaching kids and it’s leading the way in protecting our natural environment and building conservationists of the future,” says Ruud Kleinpaste.

Key transferable learnings

The key transferable learnings to come out of the Kids Restore the Kepler project, as examined by the northern team for their project, were around three key topics: authentic purpose for teaching and learning; students as leaders; and community collaboration.

Authentic purpose for teaching and learning:

  • Fiordland College students collect beech seed which is then sent to Lincoln University for Beech Mast research.
  • Business studies students from Fiordland College won a contract to construct over 400 trap boxes for the project.
  • Students work with DOC biodiversity rangers and community trappers to learn how to set, monitor and maintain a pest control trap line (Trap line 7)
  • Students have designed a logo for the programme, working with a local graphic designer.
  • Fiordland College students are responsible for the project website, which is used daily by all five schools for the ‘Meet the Locals’ initiative.
  • A website upgrade is about to get underway as part of Fiordland College’s ICT curriculum, with specialist support in class from a local web designer.
  • Students from three of the schools worked together to set up night vision cameras, to assess the movements of cats at the park entrance ways.
  • Students have worked with a University of Otago cat researcher to look for solutions to the feral cat problem in the Kepler.

Students as leaders:

  • Te Anau students have taught the Taupō teachers, their peers, community, and parents and whānau;
  • Students have ‘real-life roles’ on the Kids Restore the Kepler leadership team, which meets twice a term.
  • Fiordland College student Nicholas Humphries was appointed to the Southland Conservation Board (SCB) – SCB’s youngest ever board member.
  • Students give guided tours to visiting school groups at the Te Anau Wildlife Centre; a sanctuary for birds and great place to interpret their habitats and threats to survival.
  • Te Anau Primary School students support Fiordland Kindergarten with a native planting project.

Community collaboration:

  • Integration of the Māori perspective in partnership with tangata whenua.
  • Heightened awareness in the community leading to reports of bats in the Kepler area. Previously unknown bat colonies were subsequently located in the Iris Burn Valley.
  • Fiordland businesses have supported the project on many levels, including:
  • The ‘Kiwi-cam’ project (numerous business have supported the set-up of a camera on a kiwi nest in the Kepler Mountains.) This is live-streamed to the schools.
  • A graphic designer has supported students in branding the project;
  • Te Anau YHA have provided free accommodation for project volunteers and researchers.
  • Local nurseries have donated native plants to schools and germinate beech seeds that have been used for monitoring.

BY Robyn Orchard

Posted: 2:29 PM, 10 November 2014

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