Enviro-changemakers take action

Issue: Volume 98, Number 21

Posted: 6 December 2019
Reference #: 1HA3bh

When students from a Christchurch school did a section survey of the nearby Avon-Heathcote Estuary, they were shocked to find enough rubbish to fill three 10-litre drums.

In Term 4, 2018, South New Brighton School piloted a new curriculum resource: Climate Change – prepare today, live well tomorrow, which has given many of the Year 7 and 8 students and their teachers a passion and urgency for protecting the environment – particularly the narrow spit of land surrounded by estuary where their school is located. 

Teachers Mel Field and Jo Chalmers teach two classes (as a waka) and say the resource tied in well with prior learning about sustainability, which focused on plastics and pollution. 

“The climate change resource was the next level, looking at greenhouse gas emissions which the children here were really interested in because we’re on the coast and some of them had quite a lot of anxiety about climate change,” Mel says.

She says the programme was tailored to the local community and students could see the relevance to their learning and lives as they learned about the potential impact of climate change in their area. 

Earthquake caused ongoing flooding, erosion

The February 2011 magnitude 6.3 earthquake caused parts of the estuary to tilt, which has resulted in ongoing flooding and erosion. In August, Christchurch City Council announced it plans to build bunds to protect South New Brighton School and surrounding areas from sea level rise and flooding.

Jo says there has been considerable anxiety in the community for the past nine years, which many students will be aware of and have felt. 

“There’s been a lot going on in our area with the City Council and what their plans were. Before the pilot, we sent a letter to parents to explain what we were going to cover and asked if they wanted to be involved. 

“It was done in a way that the children’s mental health was looked after within the programme as well,” she says.

As well as offering a variety of activities and ways of learning, the climate change programme gave the students hope, Mel says. 

“The children really enjoyed the drama and role plays – it made the learning fun. I think it gave them quite a lot of hope that, yes there are these problems, but there are things they can do.” 

Many initiatives

Students made goals which they revisited throughout the programme – things like choosing to walk, bike or scooter to school rather than getting dropped off by car, and reducing the amount of meat they ate each week. 

As part of the classroom activities and their raised awareness, Year 7 and 8 students from the school have planted native trees outside the school to mitigate erosion. The school will help to maintain the trees in collaboration with the Council. 

“Earlier this year, Jo and I decided to use no plastic liners in rubbish bins. This has meant that all food waste has to go in the compost bin or be taken home. This term [4], we purchased a bigger compost bin as we have now got the staffroom on board with composting food waste,” Mel says.

“The climate change learning programme linked it all together for us and has given us more of a path to follow. We now know where we are heading whereas before we had all these ideas but they weren’t quite linked,” Jo explains.

Plans are also in the pipeline to apply for grant money for solar panels to help reduce the school’s energy consumption.

Integrated learning

Learning was integrated across curriculum areas such as writing and science, says Mel. 

“We had some experts come in and help with science experiments which the children really enjoyed. They looked at how the temperature rises really quickly in a glass jar, as opposed to outside the jar – the greenhouse effect. 

“It was awesome to see the creativity the children showed and that little steps can make a big difference if you keep repeating them. It’s very easy to look at this problem and think, ‘there’s nothing I can do’. But I think in the programme we all learnt that every little thing you can do actually adds up to be quite an amount,” says Mel.

The climate change programme fits nicely within the school’s local curriculum.

“Material from the programme is still fresh in everybody’s minds,” says Jo. “The students who were with us last year and are still with us this year are always bringing up why we don’t use plastic; why we are choosing to bus, bike or walk; why we are composting. They are always bringing up things that they learnt from the programme and the reality of why we are doing it – it is all about climate change,” she says.

Students step up

Mel Field says students have become very motivated by seeing the positive impact their actions can have on the environment. 

“There’s a lot of interest at this school because of our special environment by the sea and estuary,” she says.

The Education Gazette sat down with some of the students to discuss what they had learnt and how they plan to take action to mitigate or adapt to the impact of climate change.

The students liked the hands-on nature of many of the activities. They go to high school next year and hope to continue to find – and act on – opportunities to reduce the impact of climate change in everyday life.

“I liked that it wasn’t all taught in one way and wasn’t all just writing. There were different parts such as skits and experiments. A climate scientist showed us how fresh water and saltwater don’t mix, which is important for the way the ocean affects the climate,” says Ollie Mann (13) who has been involved in the school’s enviro-group for the past four years. 

Theo Vincent (13) also enjoyed the hands-on activities such as tree planting and learning about different kinds of rubbish. He thinks humans have been ‘stupid’ to enhance the effect of climate change on the planet. 

“We can’t help by sitting around and talking – we need to do something. If our class can plant 100 trees, think what could be achieved if all the classes in the world did it,” he says.

Act local, achieve global

The learning they gained from the climate change resource has continued, with students conducting a Marine Metre Squared survey of the estuary earlier in the year. This involved recording what they found in a square metre, Nico Parkes-Brown (13) explains:

“We had to record everything – rock, plant, rubbish. We hope that in 20 years’ time, we will be able to go back and compare the data.

“I was quite shocked – plants had grown through plastic, plastic was embedded in rocks, there was an old buried bottle of bleach and a Cookie Time wrapper with a use by date of 2001.”

Emma Dufty (13) is a member of the School Strike 4 Climate team and was part of a group who interviewed the Prime Minister. She has spoken on a Local Government New Zealand panel, and recently received the BLAKE Young Leader award for her work on climate change and the environment.

“We don’t have a car to reduce emissions and I bike to school every day. Knowledge is power and now everyone has more understanding and you can talk more openly about the issues. I don’t feel so upset because I see so much action going on with rubbish pickups and things. As Jane Goodall said – think local, act local, achieve global,” she says.

Enviro-reporting from Aotearoa

Rosie Arrillaga and Neve Sparks (both 13) came third in New Zealand in an international competition: Young Reporters for the Environment. Their entry, ‘Plastic – not so Fantastic!’ directly related to climate change and included information about using hemp which is 100 per cent biodegradable for clothing and as a replacement for some plastic. 

Rosie is keen to continue her efforts when she begins secondary school.

“I want to carry on doing the reporter competition and I hope I can take on more of a leadership role.”

South New Brighton School has signed an agreement with the Council to be kaitiaki of their part of the estuary edge. The agreement includes native tree planting and maintenance, rubbish audits (done through Enviroschools), rubbish clean-ups around the domain/estuary, and trapping pests.

“We presented in front of the little kids about cleaning up the estuary. We are the role models – it’s good for them as they are the next generation and have to keep it clean,” says Remy Soloman (12). 

Curriculum resource to engage children

In 2018, local government agencies in Ōtautahi Christchurch started discussions with one of their coastal communities about climate change. As part of this work, former teacher turned education consultant, Sian Carvell and Christchurch community facilitator, Rachel Puentener, initiated a climate change education programme for Year 7 and 8 students at South New Brighton School. 

After very positive feedback from students and teachers which included ideas for new activities and videos, the Climate Change – prepare today, live well tomorrow resource has been updated and is now available to be used by schools nationwide.

“There’s a whole lot of stuff out there and it can become a bit overwhelming especially if the information is conflicting. We wanted to raise awareness and to inform children and young people about climate change. As an interactive science-based programme, it gives them the necessary facts to enable them to not only understand climate change, but act in a way that can make a real difference,” says Sian. The curriculum resource provides a comprehensive introduction to climate change issues, with a focus on reducing the causes of climate change. Most importantly, it offers children and young people opportunities to act on their knowledge and ideas to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change. 

Due to the challenging nature of climate change, the resource also includes a Wellbeing Guide to support educators to proactively include the wellbeing of participants.

“Children intuitively connect to the natural environment. If you give them the information in a safe environment, they become motivated and enabled. Our role is to support them with that.

“The pilot showed us that the call to action needs to be supported by cities and regions. Engaged children and young people are going to go out with their ideas and need support from local bodies and organisations. Christchurch City Council and Environment Canterbury have made a declaration of climate emergency and are really stepping up around climate change education and engagement with children and young people,” says Sian.

Everyone can be a changemaker

Sian says students learned that everyone can be a climate change changemaker. 

“Being in front of a camera or speaking at the UN isn’t the only way to make a difference. Some of them thought ‘who am I to do something?’ but by the end of the programme they felt they could actually make a difference.

“I met with them a year after the pilot and asked them if they have hope and they emphatically said ‘yeah!’ That is what this kind of programme brings, rather than them just having stories from the media of all the horrors of climate change; through the knowledge they have gained, they feel they are contributing to positive change,” Sian says.

Find out more

To access the new curriculum resource and supporting wellbeing guide, search ‘Education for Sustainability’ on the New Zealand Curriculum TKI site and look under Tools and Resources(external link).  

Marine Metre Squared: mm2.net.nz(external link)  

Young Reporters for the Environment: yre.global(external link) 

South New Brighton School students wrote and performed a rap about climate change: vimeo.com/292269809(external link)

Moving towards a greener Gazette

Education Gazette Tukutuku Kōrero is also moving towards a more sustainable future. From next year, we will no longer be wrapping our Boards of Trustees copies in degradable plastic. This is one step in investigating environmentally friendly options for packaging as we pursue a greener Gazette.

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

Posted: 11:00 AM, 6 December 2019

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