Otago Students Proud of Their School’s Sustainability Journey

| By Robyn Zink

Robyn Zink, Regional Co-ordinator for Otago Enviroschools spent time chatting to students at Waitati about their Enviroschools journey and the value of reflection…

Waitati Primary School is a vibrant country school north of Dunedin – an Enviroschool since 2002.

At their Green-Gold sharing and decision-making day the Enviroschools visitors were welcomed onto the school with a rousing mihi whakatau. From that point, walking through the waharoa, past the treehouse, the food gardens and toward the students, teachers, and parents, it was obvious Waitati Primary School lives the Enviroschools guiding principles in everything they do.

I recently joined a group of the senior students to ask them about their thoughts on the reflection process and what they liked about being an Enviroschool. I was there on a Wednesday afternoon during Manaaki Papatūānuku talking to Max, Tamaiti, Luis, Nilla and Fin.

Fin, Nilla, Luis, Max and Tamaiti shared their thoughts about their Holistic Reflection.

They started by explaining what happens on Wednesdays. The school is split into five groups from across the school, “so the senior students can show them [younger students] the ropes and pass on their knowledge”.

Each group does an activity for five weeks before moving on. There are some base activities everyone does, like working in the garden and cooking and developing the habitat around the school. The group of students I was talking to were planning some new activities such as making soaps and natural cleaning products to sell.

Six months had passed since the reflection, but the students could still talk about the Enviroschools Guiding Principles and could vividly describe the things they did leading up to the reflection day.

Some of the things they did included:

  • “Making a film showing what we do during Manaaki Papatūānuku”
  • “We had to list all of the things that we think make us an Enviroschool and narrow it down to 10”
  • “We had to make drawings and planning to show what we might need to do in the near future”
  • “We got the five Guiding Principles and wrote up things that went under each one. So for empower students we had students designing the treehouse. Māori perspectives we had the Pou and the Waharoa. Then we had community things like going to the ecosanctuary. We had the small things we try and do as an Enviroschool, like trying to use less paper and recycling”.

The whole school had been involved however these senior students said they did most of the work for the reflection.

Tamaiti said “I think back on it [the sharing and decision-making day] and I’m really proud of how we got there. I feel as I’m lucky that I was in the generation that got to see the Green-Gold”.


Waitati School celebrating achieving Green-Gold at the end of their sharing and decision-making day.

Waitati’s Green-Gold raukau

They all agreed it was worth carrying out the Green-Gold reflection and recognised it was about more than just the year of work they did getting ready for the Green-Gold day. They are proud of the things that have happened at the school over the last ten years and the things they are planning for the future. One of the boys said, “I was proud. I felt more good for Sue [their teacher] because she had been here for the bronze and silver reflection”.

“They are fortunate to have such an engaged and supportive community – a reflection of the special effort the school makes to represent the community values”, Daniel Jephson, Enviroschools Facilitator

What is the best thing about being an Enviroschool?
“It’s an achievement”
“Just being an Enviroschool”
“Teaches students for the future – don’t chuck your rubbish on the ground. It is just small things that help”
“If there are 85 people here and if they all go out into New Zealand and if they all help with stuff”

The tree-house the students designed and help build.

What sustainability action is the most important to you?
”The trees and animals. I’d be really disappointed if the trees got chopped down or they put in astro turf”
“Diversity and culture – I’m from another country”
“We are a unique school”

The Principal’s perspective on the reflection process
Achieving Green-Gold status was a huge milestone for Waitati School.  The environment and sustainability are considered in most of the decisions we make as a school, for example the decision to have electronic newsletters.  Tamariki, staff and the community of Waitati are super proud of our achievements and continue to find new ways to build on these strengths.  It is important to acknowledge the tremendous support that we received from Daniel Jephson during our reflection process – Stacey Honeywell, Principal.

The Facilitator’s perspective
As a new Enviroschools Facilitator it was inspiring to visit Waitati School and experience the commitment of the students and staff to the Enviroschools kaupapa. The school was already operating at the Green-Gold level when I met them and this was confirmed during the Reflection Day. They are fortunate to have such an engaged and supportive community – a reflection of the special effort the school makes to represent the community values – Daniel Jephson, Enviroschools Facilitator.