Growing and learning together

Issue: Volume 96, Number 8

Posted: 15 May 2017
Reference #: 1H9d7i

Alexandra Primary School was the recipient of a recent Treemendous School Makeover that also saw the wider community dig in to help enliven the school’s outdoor environment.

Project Crimson trustee Ruud ‘The Bugman’ Kleinpaste attended the Treemendous Makeover to share his knowledge about habitats for native insects.

Alexandra Primary School has had many helping hands to spruce up its outdoor environment.

The previously bare grounds of the Central Otago school were brought to life with a Treemendous School Makeover one crisp Saturday in March.

Along with the planting of hundreds of tussocks and hebes, a new schist path now winds its way through the foliage, and a fledgling kōwhai grove will soon attract tui and korimako to the school grounds.

Yet to be completed is a replica stone building with schist stone exterior, and the planting of a mini orchard so the students can learn about the growing and maintenance of plants and produce.

Students and their whānau, teachers, staff from Mazda New Zealand and the Mazda Foundation, and members of the wider Alexandra community all pitched in to complete the makeover.

The Treemendous School Makeover programme is a joint initiative between the Mazda Foundation and Project Crimson. Each year the programme selects four schools to receive a $10,000 makeover, creating an outdoor educational space through the planting of native trees.

Outdoor classrooms

Teacher and junior team leader Fiona Mackley was heavily involved with the project right from the application stage. She says everyone was thrilled when they heard they’d been selected as one of the winning schools, as they had been hoping to revamp the school grounds for some time.

“We had been looking for ways we could utilise our outdoor space more, and motivate the students to spend more time outside. We have a really nice climate down here and we like seeing our children enjoying themselves outside.”

The Treemendous makeover was closely connected to teaching and learning happening at the school, inspired in parts by a talk by environmental educator Ruud ‘The Bugman’ Kleinpaste that Fiona had attended previously, the school’s cultural and natural heritage, and the students’ own backgrounds.

“Many of our students have parents who work in the Central Otago agricultural sector, so we wanted to link into that with our own orchard here at school,” says Fiona. “We plan to plant it this winter, when the trees are in their dormant stage,"

The school also has the expertise of Otago Polytechnic horticulture lecturer Jo Wakelin, who has been assisting with plant selection to suit the site.

A focus on habitats for native skinks and insects has led to rich learning opportunities for the children. Fiona says that weather permitting, her class of junior students relocates outside every Thursday with fantastic results.

“We’re already using our new environment as another learning space – the children love learning outside,” she says.

Ruud Kleinpaste also happens to be a Project Crimson trustee, and he attended the makeover day to speak to children about New Zealand’s native bugs and the importance of looking after our natural environment.

“Ruud was great – he really inspired us to think about the purpose of what we were planting, and explained to us the ideal habitats for native insects."

“Alexandra Primary School students are passionate about the environment and they played an important role in the whole process – from the the design and concept through to the digging and planting on the day,” says Fiona.

Stronger links

But the project is not yet complete – Fiona indicates there are more plans in the pipeline, including a shade sail for summer play, beehives, an outdoor stage and a scooter track.
One of the best things about winning the makeover, she says, was the chance to forge strong connections with whānau.

“Lots of people offered to help on the makeover day, and it was lovely to see grandparents come along too. The competition provided an opportunity for our school to really connect with our families, because it wouldn’t have worked without parent help and assistance."

“Local businesses gave us good deals on purchases, and parents who were builders and orchardists have lent their expertise to the project as well.”

The school wants to acknowledge the outstanding support from the Mazda Foundation, as well as local Mazda staff who attended on the day to muck in, and Caroline Wallace of Project Crimson who provided valuable advice throughout the whole process.

Fiona wholeheartedly encourages other schools to apply.

“The $10,000 was a fantastic boost – most schools would have other priorities for that money. Winning the makeover also inspires action – it gives you a firm date for making your goal happen."

“Our new outdoor environment has had a positive effect on all of us and the process of creating it has brought us closer together with our parent community. We’re not finished yet – we have plans to keep building on what we’ve already achieved.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 7:52 pm, 15 May 2017

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