A gift from the sun

Issue: Volume 95, Number 17

Posted: 19 September 2016
Reference #: 1H9d4a

A range of sustainability education initiatives is boosting interest in science at Ōtaki College. One initiative is even providing financial support to senior students as they navigate their post-school years.

Ōtaki College is harnessing energy from the sun to help students succeed. The school is taking advantage of its sunny location to generate electricity through solar panels on the roof of its main building block.

Money saved this way will be used to provide tertiary scholarships. The first of these was awarded last year to a year 13 student as she embarked upon her degree at Otago University.

Ōtaki College has always had a strong focus on science and sustainability education, and in 2014 its alumni trust started installing a 10-kilowatt bank of solar panels.

Blended fuels and community gardens

Principal Andy Fraser says the renewable energy source is just one of a number of sustainable initiatives happening at the school.

“As a school we made a commitment to boost the way we teach science and sustainability,” he says.

“There’s a lot of good work being done in the Ōtaki community relating to clean technology, and here at the college we’re making strong connections with this work, in order to make our science curriculum authentic and meaningful.”

One example is a partnership between the school’s year 12 chemistry programme and local business Blended Fuel Solutions NZ. This work involves the blending of water and diesel for use in older diesel engines, and has resulted in increasing student enrolment in chemistry at the school, as well as a fleet of school vans that now produce 85% fewer emissions.

Another project at the school has seen students help to create community vegetable gardens on the school grounds and an accompanying compost area.

Fresh produce grown by the students is donated to the local food bank to support struggling families.

“In each year level we have a ‘green team’ of students who are particularly interested in growing things and gardening and they just love it,” says Andy.

The school’s close relationship with Energise Ōtaki, an organisation working to reduce the use of fossil fuels and electricity consumption in the area, has sparked many local connections.

Horticulture students have been learning about coppicing from a stand of poplar and willow trees planted especially for this purpose on the school grounds, while other students have helped to run a recycled bicycle workshop.

Local recycling businesses such as Second Life Plastics and Silaca Glass Crushers have offered work experience placements to some students.

“Learning to look after and utilise what we have in a sustainable manner is knowledge that our ancestors had, and programmes like this are helping us learn to be more conscious about our resources,” says Andy.

A cleaner future

The school is putting in funding applications for more solar panels, in order to create more scholarships for its students.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be for students going to university,” says Andy.

“The money could also help kids for polytechnic, get into an apprenticeship or help out with their gear,” he says.

He highlights the need to support those students who may not have yet decided what they will do when they leave school.

“Students can apply for a scholarship to pay specific study fees, but it would be great if we could also give financial grants to students to help them attend university open days or other courses,” he says.

“If we have an especially sunny year, we could have $5,000 to give away to students – which may not sound like much, but why not get a good story out of those savings from the sun."

“I like to think of Tama-nui-te-rā up there smiling down on us and helping to nurture our young people.” 

Linking to the New Zealand curriculum

The vision for The New Zealand Curriculum includes that young people will help secure a sustainable, social, cultural, economic and environmental future for our country; they’ll be connected to the land and environment and will contribute to the wellbeing of New Zealand – social, cultural, economic and environmental.

Ecological sustainability is a theme throughout the curriculum and can be seen in the Values, the Key Competencies and the Learning Areas, particularly Science, Social Science, and Health and Physical Education.

Schools are guided to develop their own school curricula with a future focus on sustainability, citizenship, enterprise and globalisation.

BY Melissa Wastney
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 8:01 pm, 19 September 2016

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