Enviro-Action Days – chaotic and fun ways to engage the whole school

| By Enviroschools Manawatū – Whanganui team

Green Team kids showing others how to plant their Paper4Trees tree

A large primary school in the Manawatū mobilises the whole school on a regular basis to focus on environmental learning and action that is specific to their place. Activities and action projects are chosen around a theme or around a need for development or maintenance. These student-led days create impetus for on-going engagement.

Manchester Street School in Feilding has a relatively large roll of 413 students. They are a Green-Gold Enviroschool and have been on the programme for 19 years. Like many Enviroschools, Manchester Street School has student enviro-groups to help steer their Enviroschools sustainability journey. They have three large student groups consisting of about 30-40 students, and which concentrate on different aspects of sustainability. Each class is encouraged to have students in the enviro-groups.

The Green Team are in charge of propagating and growing plants for local plantings and the annual plant sale.

Te Rōpū o te Purapura (The Green Team) lead activities at the school nursery during lunch times and are in charge of propagating and growing plants for local plantings and for the annual plant sale. The proceeds are then put back into the maintenance and running of the nursery.

Ngā Kaitiaki Taiao (The Enviro Kids) plan and run the Enviro-Action days each term. This group oversees the operational practices and class enviro-jobs.

The Mātauranga Māori group explores and promotes Māori perspectives through the school environment and programmes, and has a cultural focus for events (e.g. pōwhiri and waiata). In 2021, the school set up a further small enviro-group called the Waiora group who are running a community project on monitoring the water quality of their local awa, the Mangakino (Makino) stream, which runs through Feilding.

The staff enviro-teaching team has four teachers who are each responsible for a student group based on their expertise; these include helping Te Rōpū o te Purapura in running the nursery and vegetable gardens, and Mātauranga Māori group in Te Reo Māori, Te Ao Māori, and Ngā Kaitiaki Taiao in organising action projects and events.

Each group has an elected student leader who becomes a member of the Student Leadership Team, and each year students can apply to be part of one of these groups (including juniors who have recently been able to join for the first time) but they are always heavily oversubscribed.

So with such a large student and staff roll, how do can you get everyone on to the schools sustainability journey in a genuine way? 

Jack from the Green Team, collecting non-paper recycling from classrooms.

The school has a number of initiatives in place to help. Firstly, each class has weekly enviro-jobs where students are rostered to undertake with training from enviro-groups. For example, those in Room 1 collect non-paper recycling from each of the classroom bins.

Student Jack from The Green Team says” it’s awesome being an Enviroschool. [it’s] good to learn about how to care for the environment.”

Next, each class has their own garden which they weed/maintain regularly and plant where needed. Finally, there are the whole school Enviro-Action Days. You can imagine with the whole school involved, these days are organised chaos, very loud but very fun!

These termly events are planned by the enviro-teaching team and The Enviro-Kids who determine the theme for these days. Everyone is invited to wear mufti and dress in green clothes suitable for gardening in. There are heaps of activities, both indoor and outdoor, some have scheduled times, others are free flowing. Classes do not have to complete all activities and teachers can run some of their own should they so wish. On these days there is something for everyone, and the Enviroschools Guiding Principles can be seen in action in the types of activities provided.

There is always cooking, creating something, connection to the environment, kaitiakitanga, tuākana tēina – each class has a buddy class so activities to connect the juniors and seniors, so they know each other well, Mātauranga Maori, and most importantly community involvement. Plus, classes complete their enviro-jobs and spend time in their class gardens.

Previous themes include zero waste, and bees, birds and biodiversity. The theme for this day was Paper/Trees. Usually, the day begins with an enviro-themed assembly run by enviro-group leaders.  But as this term’s Enviro-Action Day was held under Covid Alert Level 2 there was no whole school assembly which many students mentioned that they missed.

Encouraging creativity and sustainability.

Some of activities included a cardboard box challenge – what can you make with a box which is 90% cardboard and is enviro-friendly (no glitter etc); food glorious food… have some lemons – what can you make with them; with your buddy class make newspaper origami seed pots – this was really challenging; book a Paper4Trees visit from the Enviro-kids to hear about the initiative and how you can make the most of paper before recycling it (GOOS etc) plus plant your tree from Paper4Trees in your class garden with help from the Green Team; learn about Tānemahuta and visit its pou in the bushwalk; watch Rata and the Tree/ Rata me te Rākau and learn (or act out) the Māori legend of creation; tree art photo competition; plus often their Enviroschools Facilitator Rowena Brown runs some activities, this time it was about the whakapapa of harakeke (p36 Living Landscapes theme area) and the connection of harakeke and people. The school has lots of harakeke and the activity showed how harakeke grows reflects the way a whānau grows. She also ran a Te Rākau activity using korari (flower stalks).

Community support is invaluable

Enviroschools Regional Coordinator Sarah teaching students about water pollution.

The school has strong community support, and this is seen with many parents and grandparents coming in and regularly working with students, such as grandparents reading with tamariki, or helping to support the weekly green team activities. On Enviro-Action Days this support is even more invaluable to help to run activities. Covid levels have impacted the number of whānau they are allowed on site as well as how comfortable they are to be there.

Parent, Shelley Allanson, is a regular helper at school whether it is at the Enviro-Action Days, supporting green team activities, or as she says, ‘anything else Leigh wants help with!’

“It’s for the kids. Just the look on their faces and the excitement they get. I love it.” –  Shelley Allanson, Parent.

Parent, Amy Wildbore, was also helping the juniors take photos of trees and flowers around the school grounds.

“As a family we really value the environment focus the school has. It is such a community-based school.”  –  Amy Wildbore, Parent.

Principal Glen constructed a fire pit on one Enviro-Action Day and helped students cook potatoes for lunch

The school has found that the combination of enviro-groups and whole school Enviro-Action Days has helped grow student confidence, including for those who struggle with engaging in class. Some students thrive being part of the green team. Principal, Glen Richardson, agrees.

“Invisible students really shine in these environments. enviro-action days are very hands on and student driven, lots of opportunities to do indoor and outdoor things, something for everyone. The days are really great to get all staff involved, makes Enviroschools school wide that’s a strength of it.” – Glen Richardson, Manchester School Principal

Leigh Cowan, Enviroschools Lead teacher says, “students look forward to Enviro-Action Days and always remember them. The buzz and fun atmosphere that you see and feel everywhere around the school, remind you why you love to teach, bring credibility to being an Enviroschool, and make the green part of our school rainbow care code sing.  Together we can and do, make a significant difference”.

Leigh’s Top tips for running Enviro-Action Days

  • Have a strong and keen planning team from across the school
  • Choose a theme to pull it all together- sometimes we can link to current school-wide topics, sometimes we choose something topical, or we may link it to a Guiding Principle
  • Share responsibility for planning activities for the day within your team
  • Teachers love to know what’s happening in advance – share the day’s outline in good time
  • Over plan but don’t expect everyone to do everything
  • Enlist the support of your Enviroschools’ staff- this gives real kudos to the day, the students and staff love them, and it allows opportunities for positive relationships and connections to be developed
  • Start the day together – allow the student enviro groups to shine at a whole school assembly – karakia, waiata, enviro songs, student leader updates on what their groups have been doing, outlining the theme for the day and activities, principal motivational talk, guest speakers, acknowledging helpers
  • Have some activities that everyone has to do – class gardens, class bush area, reflection on class enviro jobs
  • Plan a diverse range of enviro related activities
  • Allow staff to run with their passions
  • Make sure to plan something fun and memorable
  • Include a kai activity
  • Be prepared for any type of weather
  • Promote the day well so that you get a good number of parent helpers
  • Be aware that there may be some students who struggle with a day like this when their normal routines are disrupted. Plan for how you will manage this

Sharing the stories of action days.

Finally, these days are hard work to organise and worth it to get everyone involved and really feel like they are part an Enviroschools’ sustainability journey.

Taste testing the yummy student creations.