Riparian planting project improves waterways and sparks awareness

Issue: Volume 98, Number 9

Posted: 30 May 2019
Reference #: 1H9ufR

A Year 7–8 class from Matamata Intermediate has gained a heightened awareness of being kaitiakitanga of their local environment and also seek – and receive – support from the community.

Matamata Intermediate students last year planted 200 plants, including harakeke, coprosma, kōwhai and cabbage trees, as part of a riparian planting project, by a stream near the source of the Upper Waitoa river.

The students combined science, literacy and maths learning streams in their exploration of a sense of place and the conflict between people and nature.

With national debate about the impact of farming on our waterways and many students coming from the dairy farming community, they were already interested in sustainability, kaitiakitanga and science.

Class teacher Karen Nicholls says the budding conservationists were keen to explore the environmental conflict between people and nature.

“Our class is part of Waitoa whānau and wanted to connect with the awa [river]. We had a lot of kids that were really interested in ecology, and many from the dairy farm community, and so for them their sense of place is really tied into the land,” she says.

“Many of the driving questions developed by the students involved how we manage our environment when, for a lot of our kids, their livelihood is in dairy farming. As a dairy farming community, we were interested in the effects of run-off on waterways and riparian planting initiatives.”

Karen says as a teacher she learnt that taking a risk for real-life learning was worth it when she saw the satisfaction and fulfillment the children achieved throughout the project – and the benefits of have been long-lasting 

“It’s messy learning and it doesn’t always look neat and tidy and encapsulated, but it’s really real and vibrant so I guess be brave and have a go. Also use your kids’ strengths – for example, 11-year-olds asking versus me asking. They now have a bit more power in their community.”

Resource and community help

The SVA Riparian Planting Resource from School Kit(external link) helped students to begin working together to restore local wetlands and waterways.
This resource was developed by the Student Volunteer Army (SVA), who also donated $500 of plants.

“We inquired into how riparian planting works to help the stream health, water quality and erosion. We looked at what farmers are already doing and we hooked into one of our board members who said he had an area he wanted to plant,” says Karen.

“With support from the farmer, the class studied the types of plants needed for the area. Our planting day was a success as through the process, students were able to connect science, literacy and maths to make a very real application in the inquiry.

The project soon involved the local community.

“The kids wrote letters to local businesses. The persuasive writing was a big part of it as well, because the quality of their letter writing and the persuasive process they went through had a real outcome, which was that they got the plants that they asked for.

“The cool thing was how in a local community you can pull in other people, and of course DairyNZ and Fonterra were really keen to support us. A local plant nursery gifted us another $200–$300 of plants and a student’s uncle was pulling out harakeke, which he gifted to the project.”

A learning process

Key learning experiences included the process of developing questions and finding  people and experts to answer them.

“Even in the process of planning,” says Karen, “more questions arose.

“For example, one kid asked ‘do we need to fence it? If so, can we legally fence it?’ Other questions came up around whether 30 of us were allowed to go onto a farm during an outbreak of M. bovis.”

A different view of conflict

Students were also able to look at conflict in a different way, from ‘fighting with a mate’ to focusing on the human impact on the environment and what can be done to remedy it.

The project illustrated that even if people have different backgrounds or points of view, everybody has a responsibility to look after the environment.

“Part of our questioning earlier had been about the Waikato Land Wars, and that segued into it, with the children thinking about why people feel so strongly about the land.

“That whole aspect of tūrangawaewae, the place of standing where you are and kaitiakitanga, that we are guardians of the land was really important, especially for our Māori kids, some of whom are dairy farmers.”

Through that process, Karen says, her students realised that they weren’t in opposition to each other and they could have different points of view but the same understanding of their  responsibility to the environment.

Reaching out to the community

Room 14 and Karen also discovered that the community and local businesses want to be involved in schools but don’t always know how.

“So we can take that step in showing them how school and community groups and businesses can work together for an outcome.

“The main thing was that feeling of real excitement they had at feeling like they’d actually done something worthwhile. It was out of the classroom, it was real-life learning.

“For the kids that were dairy farmers it affirmed what they were already doing and for the townie kids they were seeing that you can effect change. Even at their age they can effect change in the world, and I think that was a key learning.”

Student impact

Simone Woolliams was part of Room 14’s project and a member of Matamata Intermediate’s Green Team. She says she learnt that making an impact on the environment can be done without much money.

“Throughout the project, I learnt that if you put your mind towards something you can achieve it,” says Simone.

“Also ... all you have to do is ask for help and there will be some kind heart around in your community or school who will be willing to help.

“Now I feel that the impact we made on our environment also made an impact in our minds and helped us to take better care of the environment,” she says.

Karen agrees. “Actually seeing the inquiry process through, from developing the driving question, which was ‘how can we as Matamata Intermediate students contribute to the local waterway environment?’, to actually physically doing something was powerful, because I think quite a lot of the time we stop before that.”

What is riparian planting?

Riparian planting involves maintaining vegetated margins along waterways.

Grass and sedges (grasslike plants) help to filter water running off the land, and shrubs and trees stabilise the stream bank and cool the water by providing shade. Lower water temperatures can benefit aquatic insect and fish communities.

See Dairy NZ / Environment / Waterways(external link) for more information.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 10:09 am, 30 May 2019

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