Sowing the seeds of environmental success

Issue: Volume 103, Number 1

Posted: 25 January 2024
Reference #: 1HAep4

Growing the environmental leaders and protectors of tomorrow, today, is one of the aims of a unique environmental education programme in the Wellington region.

Ākonga within the Tawa Kāhui Ako have planted thousands of trees in Takapū Valley and their own schools over the last two years through the KETE programme.

Ākonga within the Tawa Kāhui Ako have planted thousands of trees in Takapū Valley and their own schools over the last two years through the KETE programme.

KETE is the adopted name of the Kids Enhancing Tawa Ecosystems. And from this KETE have sprung many taonga, which reach beyond the shoots of growth in the natural environment, into the hearts and minds of ākonga.

“KETE is an opportunity for ākonga associated with Tawa Kāhui Ako to display leadership in environmental activities such as riparian planting, pest control, litter awareness and improving stream health,” says retired Tawa College principal, Murray Lucas, as a key supporter of the programme.

Murray has spent a lifetime in the Tawa region, including two decades as principal at Tawa College. He has been the lead of the Tawa Kāhui Ako for the past two years.

Murray explains how the concept for KETE began in 2021 by the then Wellington City Council education lead Elspeth McMillan, as a response to observed climate anxiety in rangatahi. In conjunction with local charitable trust Growing Places, KETE began a collaborative community project which was allocated an area at the top of Takapū Valley, owned by Transpower and the Department of Conservation.

“This is a significant area for the local iwi, Ngāti Toa Rangatira, as it was a key source historically of both food and water,” he says.

“KETE have been working in partnership with the iwi to develop the planting of native trees to change farmland into stands of native trees as well as establish new wetlands.”

He says all eight kāhui ako schools in KETE – primary, intermediate and secondary – have been involved in the planting and ‘releasing’ of these native trees over the last two years.

Releasing, as students have learned, involves the removal of weeds from a tree’s base, creating a doughnut shaped ring around the tree, to discourage weeds and encourage healthy growth.

Community connections

Student leaders have been involved in all aspects of the programme, from designing the KETE logo, to speaking to community groups and their peers, and researching which native plants should be planted and where – both on the Takapū Valley site and at their own schools.

More than 1,500 students, 10 community and stakeholder organisations and over 800 community volunteer and whānau support hours have contributed to the planting project.

 KETE programme coordinator Sue Lum and student.

KETE programme coordinator Sue Lum and student.

As a result, more than 12,000 trees have been planted over two years. Connections have been built with mana whenua, tamariki and rangatahi, community and te taiao, says KETE programme coordinator Sue Lum.

Sue acts as ‘the glue’ for KETE – connecting students, teachers and the community, she says.

“I’m passionate about helping people to connect with and care for nature and to be empowered to take action to make a difference for te taiao.”

The programme follows a Collaborative Community Education Model (CCEM): Schools and students at the centre, supported by stakeholders and community groups, and led by a student leadership team in conjunction with a strategic leadership group.

KETE encourages action and place-based connections, with environmental restoration the focus.

Education is delivered in three strands: Education about the environment in developing knowledge and skills, education for the environment in taking action to restore, grow and protect, and education in the environment – connecting to nature and place.

School planting

Sue meets regularly with student leaders and link teachers from the kāhui ako. The focus for term 3 in 2023 was on plans for school backyard planting.

“Teachers and students are enjoying meeting in person,” says Sue. “As we were focusing on plants and planting plans, we went for a walk and looked at Tawa School’s backyard planting from last year.

“The improvement of the Tawa School site because of the planting is very marked; what was previously known as Lake Tawa, due to its propensity to flood every winter, is now known by the students as The Forest – it has not flooded this year! Eventually, in a few years’ time, the plan is to make a nature trail through this space.”

In term 2 of 2023, all eight schools were involved in tree planting in the Takapū Valley, with 788 students involved over 14 days. Murray was pleased to discover the fruits of last year’s mahi.

“Last year’s plants have grown exceptionally. About 97 percent of the plants have survived from the planting in 2022,” he said.

Principal of Redwood School, Zac Mills, shares Murray’s passion for the KETE programme.

“It’s great to be involved in this project. It is an authentic way to collaborate with the local council, other local schools in our kāhui ako and mana whenua too,” he says.

“The emphasis on the restoration of the Porirua stream and litter reduction is helping to show students how interconnected our environment is, and how important it is to be kaitiaki of that environment. It provides an authentic context within our local curriculum.”

Year 7 and 8 students relish learning about biodiversity and the natural environment.

Year 7 and 8 students relish learning about biodiversity and the natural environment.

Student leadership

Not only has KETE added richness to the curriculum and the natural environment, but it has also enabled primary school students to experience leadership and develop these skills at a young age.

“I’ve really enjoyed watching some of our younger students step up into a leadership space because KETE is something they are passionate about,” says Zac.

“We have Year 3 students leading our composting and waste reduction and they’ve been involved since last year, when they were Year 2s. It’s an opportunity they might not have had without the KETE focus and drive from our lead teacher, Nic Webb.”

Year 4 KETE student leaders at Redwood School, Lily and Alex, have enjoyed taking on their roles. Eight-year-old Lily explains why she applied to be a student leader of the programme.

“It sounded like a good opportunity to meet students from the other Tawa schools, and to be involved in something to help the local community.

“We’ve had the opportunity to go on lots of trips, which has been exciting. I’ve learned lots of new things.”

A love of animals inspired Alex, 9, to apply to be a KETE student leader, saying, “I want to make sure we keep the environment clean for them. Planting native trees and flax at school and at the top of Takapū Valley was really fun.”

“We’ve learned lots about native trees and birds and how to look after nature. I enjoyed understanding more about native birds and learning some new names of birds in English and te reo Māori,” Lily adds.

“Next, I’d like to do a beach clean-up. We helped out at the kuinga of the Porirua awa; it would be great to clean up where it joins the sea.”

Community advocates

At the end of term 3 last year, four KETE students, along with Sue, gave a presentation to the Tawa Community Board.

“We have had the privilege of working with a large number of environmental organisations, whose support has been inspirational,” says Murray.

Before the presentation, online sessions were held for student leaders, covering how to give a presentation and keep the audience’s attention.

“The students were well prepared and articulate,” says Sue, who was delighted with feedback.

Former Member of Parliament and secondary school principal Marian Hobbs described the project as wonderful, adding that “it gives me so much hope”.

Jill Day, chairperson of the Tawa Community Board, agrees and says the community collaboration in Tawa is exciting.

“The knowledge and passion demonstrated by the students was inspiring and yes, also gives us much hope for a healthier future for our local environment. Thanks to all who work to make this important kaupapa happen.”

Widespread community relationships have been strongly forged through KETE. Friends of Tawa Bush Reserves have partnered with KETE in their planting mahi whilst a Pest-free Tawa committee meeting involved discussion and support of student-led pest trapping programmes in schools and the importance of correct process and equipment.

Student leaders also took part in a pest-free session, which was a follow up from a recent group trip to ecosanctuary Zealandia for eight KETE link teachers and 40 student leaders – a subsidised activity as part of a PLD programme.

“This was a very enjoyable and educational night walk and followed our focus on New Zealand’s unique endemic biodiversity and the importance of protecting it,” says Sue.

When a recent site visit by funders Greater Wellington Regional Council | Te Pane Matua Taiao representatives for the Community Education Fund took place, Sue says this further highlighted community links to the project.

“Both representatives were very impressed with what KETE have achieved up at our site; the amount of growth which has taken place, and the expanse of the planting and connections between students and schools,” she adds.

KETE’s focus this year is on helping to restore the mauri of Te Kenepuru (Porirua) Stream through a number of actions including freshwater monitoring, continued litter management and exploring barriers to fish passage.

Murray, and all involved, look forward to seeing the fruits of their labour flourish in 2024 and beyond.

“It’s such an exciting programme for so many reasons,” he says. “And it’s not just happening for those involved, in the here and now, it’s for the future.”    

 Students at a workshop on Litter Intelligence run by Sustainable Coastlines.

Students at a workshop on Litter Intelligence run by Sustainable Coastlines.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 10:42 am, 25 January 2024

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