Small but staunch rural school champions sustainability

Issue: Volume 97, Number 5

Posted: 23 March 2018
Reference #: 1H9i4a

Environmentally friendly practices and sustainable living aren’t just part of the curriculum at Matawai School – they’re a way of life.

Matawai School, in the rugged Waioeka Gorge 70 kilometres inland from Gisborne, has been part of Enviroschools since 2008. Enviroschools is a nationwide programme that works in partnership with councils and other organisations to support schools to plan, design and implement sustainable strategies.

For Principal Glenn Knight, thinking sustainably and outside the box is now just a matter of course.

“It was a new thing for me to see when I joined the school as the principal, but just seeing how the kids connect the fundamentals of learning, so your literacy and your numeracy, it’s an opportunity to entwine hands-on learning for them,” he says.

“For our school it connects us directly with our immediate environment, it really gives our kids a chance to connect and consider when we’re growing things, what are we growing and when and why.”

Local facilitators work with staff and students to achieve some of the core principles of Enviroschools.

“Part of that is about empowering students, Māori perspectives and cultural understanding, growing food, composting, caring for our environment and also elements to do with sustainable energy, so those principles link to the school curriculum quite well.”

The school has 10 core goals it wishes to achieve over a three-year period. Each class has taken responsibility for working towards one or two of these goals.

“One, for example, is creating a dawn chorus with regeneration of native planting,” says Glenn. “One is a community garden project, so making sure that produce the kids grow is used in our cooking classes, but also packages are sent to either needy families or organisations that can use it for soup kitchens and things like that.

“Another one is energy, so we’ve got a technology project where a couple of the kids are doing a solar-powered watering system for our shade house, so lots of hands-on things that sort of tie into being environmentally conscious in what we do.”

Another schoolwide initiative is to encourage as little packaging as possible in students’ lunchboxes, or environmentally friendly alternatives.

“It’s not compulsory and it’s not policed, but it is encouraged, so the kids made their own beeswax wrappings for their sandwiches and so forth at school. We’ve probably got
80 per cent of the school following that on a daily basis. Part of that was working with mum and dad on why they shouldn’t use Glad Wrap,” Glenn says.

“It’s really about caring about what’s immediately around them, to the point of taking some of the practices into the home.”

An integrated approach

Glenn believes it is important that sustainability isn’t segregated from the rest of the curriculum or only practised intermittently.

“Our staff have directly connected the Enviroschools principles embedded into all aspects of the curriculum, so when it’s numeracy, they can connect measurements studies. So, for example, new garden beds going in, the middle class – our Years 3 and 4 – were learning about volume and area so they had to work out how much soil they needed to put into these garden beds, so there’s a connection there,” he says.

“Definitely literacy with writing reports, science because they’ve got little test pots that they’re using to see how certain seeds propagate and grow, right through to our digital curriculum where our children learn and create something, so they learn something and they might create a mini movie or a slide show or something like that to showcase the evolution of their learning. Then they can share that digitally or in art form; our arts programme is strongly connected with it as well.

“So, long story short, it’s integrated right across everything.”

A community cause

It isn’t just teachers and students who are enthusiastic about the school’s environmentally friendly practices.

In 2016, the Enviroschools principles were added into the school’s governance by the board of trustees, which informs the planning and teaching requirements for staff.

“Being a rural school you are the hub of the community, so we’ve got a massive amount of support from our community,” says Glenn.

“We’ve got a garden crew of community members who come in and help care for our garden and work alongside the kids, we’ve got local businesses who connect with the school and allow the kids to come in and help them do little projects there as well. It’s just really supportive, to be honest.”

Parents of Matawai School students also endorse the programme because they understand the links between the curriculum and the environmental practices taught.

“It’s not all about planting and growing things, being completely wrapper free and things like that. It’s understanding the why and the how and the parents see that’s important for their children’s learning, so it’s about developing those critical thinking and analysis skills so that kids can take that into research, and discussions at home with mum and


Sustainable packaging query

Matawai school came to the attention of the Education Gazette when they sent a query about the sustainability of the Gazette’s packaging.

In an email to the Gazette editor, the school said:

“Matawai School is a green gold Enviroschool and prides itself in looking after our environment as best we can.”

Schools interested in the Education Gazette’s packaging should note that multiple copies of the Gazette will be posted, where possible, in a C4 paper envelope.

Single copies and copies intended for a board of trustees are flow-wrapped in degradable, recyclable plastic which is produced in New Zealand.

The Education Gazette team would like to thank Matawai School for raising their query with us. 

A student’s perspective

“When I started school, Enviroschools had just started happening at Matawai school. The older kids were planting native gardens and learning about recycling. From the start we all wanted to be out there helping.

We started having wrapper-free Fridays and we had to challenge ourselves and families to succeed. After lots of work we achieved our goal and were awarded the silver Enviro award.
I was one of the three chosen to go and collect it. I was very proud.

Everyone made an effort to pick up any stray rubbish around the school. People from the community came to help out and we finally achieved the green gold Enviro award. It was then that I realised that this was the point the whole time, we had worked as a team, learnt lots about other people and sustainability, and succeeded in achieving our environmental goals.”

- Quinn Redpath


BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:30 am, 23 March 2018

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