Ecologically sustainable practises intertwined with secondary school values

Online meeting provided a successful platform for sharing and making decisions about th PNGHS Enviroschools journey.

Palmerston North Girls’ High School (PNGHS) recently celebrated their Silver Enviroschools Reflection from a slightly different lens due to the new Covid-19 restrictions. The school opted to host their reflection online in early December, by presenting via Google Meets. The morning was planned well and gave everyone the opportunity to discuss the achievements, reward the mahi and contribute to the next steps, with the final decision being to award Palmerston North Girls’ High School with its Silver medal. This was a massive achievement in what had otherwise been a chaotic year, the students have taken leaps and bounds toward their goals and an official celebration event is planned for early 2022 to share with the wider community.

A central focus for PNGHS has been the development of ecologically sustainable practises that are intertwined within the school values, curriculum, whānau and wider community. They have undertaken a range of projects with a sustainability focus.

Measuring change – how far the Māra Kai has come in 3 years.

One such project was the revamping of the Horticulture area which began back in 2015. A proposal was made to create a Māra Kai (food garden), to help teach students how to grow, harvest and use food for rongoā, nutrition and pleasure. This project has utilised existing structures to revamp the 1980’s glasshouse, upcycling swimming pool bench timber for raised beds, repainting old science benches, the introduction of new compost tumblers and the installation of a new glasshouse. The area was officially opened in 2020.

Some of the produce created by students.

With the intention that this valuable resource supports rewarding and satisfying learning, the Māra Kai has become integral to the Food Technology curriculum delivery. Students have used the produce from the Māra Kai to create delicious products such as salsa verde and salad jars. Money generated from the sale of these and their worm tea, is used to purchase new supplies, to maintain the succession and productivity of the garden. One goal is to make the Māra Kai self-funding.

Planting around the school has also changed over the years, with thought and planning going into the species and the locations of planting with the aim to increase biodiversity, fruit and flower production and significant meaning. The citrus garden near the Maths teaching area marked the start of a switch in plant selection, where food producing plants replaced roses.

Kaumātua Wiremu Te Awe Awe and Executive Prefect, Salma Abdulla led the olive planting to commemorate the Christchurch tragedy and honour the increasing number of Muslim students in the community.

Olive trees were planted in remembrance of the 2019 Christchurch tragedy and to honour the diversity within the school community. Magnolias and roses reflect the past of Girls’ High while planting native flora, recognises the shift in valuing indigeneity at PNGHS and looking towards the future.

An energy “use and reduce” study was conducted in 2015/2016 as a way to measure and reduce the school’s carbon footprint, and the results of this research along with the support of then Principal, Karene Biggs, led to heat pumps being installed throughout the school as a more sustainable heating and cooling option. Recently the replacement of fluorescent lights with LED lighting was undertaken to reduce electricity consumption further. With the installation of several water fountains, students have a sustainable option to easily refill their water bottles.

PNGHS hosted a Wero on sustainability in 2018 where students from as far as Wellington attended. A range of guest speakers discussed the principles of sustainability and set some challenges. Students devised action plans and carried out practical activities. A blueberry bush was planted in the school grounds to mark the occasion.

Students have taken part in numerous community sustainability initiatives as part of the AgTech Hackathon including projects working on detecting fish populations in rivers and using Artificial Intelligence goggles to identify diseases on fruit.

Cross-curricular collaboration has been significant in the PNGHS journey. One example of this is the way the Art Department has embedding sustainability into their courses. Students have created the ceramic pou and murals for the Māra Kai. Others have designed T-shirts to honour the Muslim community and reflect a commitment to cultural and environmental sustainability, and shared their creations at the annual Spring Fling in the gallery.

In addition to their environmental sustainability goals, mahi (work) has also included showcasing the multicultural nature of PNGHS. The Multicultural committee fundraised for and designed a Welcome Wall, featuring 38 languages that reflect the diversity of the students and community in Palmerston North. The PNGHS community of tauira has changed over the years becoming increasingly ethnically diverse. The uniform now allows students to celebrate their culture, gender identity and more closely reflects the type of clothing worn in the current NZ society.

Staff and students are delighted with the success and productivity of the Māra kai.

The vision for 2022 is to ensure all new Year 9 students starting at the school are introduced to what it means to be an Enviroschool, the mahi done towards sustainability so far, and ways in which they can each contribute to this vision and be part of the next steps in the journey. In 2022, Sustainability is a key school goal.

This Enviroschools journey started with a few passionate individuals, including Dr Heather Meikle and Mrs Jenny Slade. It has grown into a community of past, present and future students, staff, whānau and members of the community who are committed to the ongoing development of Girls’ High in their sustainability endeavours, with strong goals to work towards embedding deep sustainable practises into the whole school on their voyage towards Green-Gold.

You can read more about PNGHS Māra kai development here.