Putting heart into green spaces

Issue: Volume 96, Number 16

Posted: 11 September 2017
Reference #: 1H9eZj

Five Taupō schools are working together and with their community to increase biodiversity and bring birds back into town. Education Gazette meets some of the locals involved in Kids Greening Taupō.

A new programme is encouraging children of all ages to get involved in community conservation projects.

Kids Greening Taupō (KGT) involves five schools – one secondary, two primary schools and two kindergartens – so students taking part are aged from three to 17 years.

The programme is based on the Department of Conservation’s (DOC’s) collaborative community education model, which involves educators, students and organisations working together to achieve a shared conservation and education vision.

The power behind KGT is in providing opportunities for engaging young people in real and local restoration projects and supporting teachers to use these authentic learning contexts.

The project is founded on the goals of the local restoration group Greening Taupō, but students are the ‘heart’ of the project, working with each other and community partners to meet their joint vision.

Students connect with nearby green spaces to apply their knowledge, skills and values to real-life opportunities for project planning, problem solving and collaboration.

Students are active leaders, decision makers and contributors in their local community, and are making a real difference.

DOC has worked closely with the KGT project to develop an effective and robust model that others can use to develop similar programmes in their communities.

The key principles of the collaborative community education model are:

  • Authentic teaching and learning contexts.
  • Collaboration – across year levels, between schools and with the wider community.
  • Student-led – an ethos of students being in the ‘driver’s seat’.
  • Vertical approach – a continuous, cross-curricular learning journey, 
  • as students move from kindergarten through to secondary school.
  • Professional development and support for teachers.
  • The schools currently taking part in KGT are Tauhara College, Taupō Primary, Waipahihi Primary, Four Seasons Kindergarten and Hinemoa Kindergarten.

DOC outreach and education coordinator Kerryn Penny says the programme goes further than Taupō.

“Kids Greening Taupō is based upon the successful Kids Restore the Kepler programme in Te Anau,” she explains.

“Since then we have worked with a coordinator, Thea, to help us better understand what was working and what wasn’t as we built a model or framework on which we can build new programmes.”

Thea Depetris was working on her Master of Education in Taupō  and made the KGT pilot the topic of her thesis(external link)

“The stars then aligned again as pretty much to the day I handed in my thesis, I was able to take over the education coordinator role, and therefore see if I could put some of the theory into practice,” she says.

A passionate environmental educator, Thea believes KGT has made a good start but holds a lot of potential.

“Society has a long way to go before we collectively prioritise the environment and live sustainably. Environmental education is a critical component to this journey of ours.

“What I really like about KGT is that it is not a one-size-fits-all approach and empowers our local people to contribute to Taupō,” she says.

“It’s about communities – organisations, businesses and experts, including our expert young people – coming together to achieve a shared vision for our place in the world.”

Thea says the programme is responsive – it is able to evolve as the issues and needs of the community and environment change.

“We’re in the early stages and therefore presently our focus is mainly on connecting Taupō children and young people to the natural environment through schools adopting restoration projects that are within walking distance.

“So we spend plenty of time outside, getting our hands dirty with as many schoolwide restoration initiatives as possible.”

Relevant learning at Tauhara College

Tauhara College has been involved in KGT from the start. In 2014 DOC staff and Tauhara science teachers Amy Wake and Andrea Mertens visited Te Anau to learn from the Kids Restore the Kepler project.

Tauhara College’s involvement started with year 9 and 10 students developing an ecological corridor at Spa Park by planting flora that would provide year-round food for native birds.

Recently the school has begun planning the restoration of a council-owned reserve set amongst a busy urban area and within walking distance of the school. One of the key aims of this new project is to increase the number of teachers involved in using KGT, and subsequently, the number of students involved, say Amy and Andrea.

Other developments have included a student-designed KGT logo and website, a blog named The Greening Report, and meeting with a range of dignitaries, including the Governor-General and the Prime Minister.

Tauhara College principal Keith Buntting says he’s proud to be involved with the project.

“It continues to be one of those programmes that highlights how powerful learning is when it happens within relevant, real-world contexts and with an emphasis on making a positive difference in the world.

“I think people sometimes just see the conservation side of the project, and this is a vital part, but it has also allowed our students to work with web designers, planners, the council, and interact with leaders in the community.

“This has allowed them to experience leadership, problem solving and strategic thinking at a very high level. Besides the specific knowledge and understanding that is needed in these contexts, the level of emotional and relational intelligence, team-building, negotiation and collaboration skills needed in these situations is invaluable experience for them,” he says.

“Our students have also thoroughly enjoyed working with various kindergartens and primary schools as well as with people in the community. Their leadership skills and confidence have flourished as a result of this programme and it seems to be going from strength to strength with younger students now joining.”

Andrea Mertens and Amy Wake agree.

“A highlight for me has been seeing how much students enjoy working with young people from the other schools in KGT,” says Amy.

“Normally we’re all segregated into our own boxes – kindergarten, primary, secondary – so through KGT we have the opportunity to work with other educational facilities as well as community partners. I see this as a real success of the programme.

“When students work with such a variety of projects and partners such as council, schools, DOC, and businesses, they’re able to develop and strengthen valuable skills such as problem solving, communication and collaboration,” says Andrea.

Growing seedlings

Taupō Primary School embraced the opportunity to join KGT in 2015, and initially five student leaders were selected to represent the school at meetings.

Teachers Liz France and Janice Bowman say the experience has empowered their students to make a difference in their community and for the environment.

In a practical sense, authentic learning opportunities have included making seed pots from recycled materials, raising and nurturing seedlings and tree planting.

Taupō Primary School students also attend weekend planting days in the wider community and have been investigating pest control to encourage birdlife.

“We started this project small and we are growing as it grows. We have taken it from the individual classrooms into the school grounds.

Our next step will be to continue with the school grounds and then gradually into the community,” says Liz. 

Tauhara College year 12 student Jack McNeill is a keen participant in the programme.

“Kids Greening Taupō combines my interests and skills to help save the environment. But Kids Greening is so much more than it says on the tin.

“Through my roles as keynote speaker and senior reporter, I’ve met important and interesting people such as Prime Minister Bill English, our local MP Louise Upston, Sir Jerry Mateparae, and many others over the past two years.

“My contacts established through the programme have led me to other exciting opportunities as well, and it really feels like I’m making a difference. It’s helped me grow and branch out as a person, and I can’t wait for the birds to start singing!”

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

Posted: 9:15 AM, 11 September 2017

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