An air of confidence and clarity is evident in 11-12 year old Greytown School students as they grapple with and address real world problems through their in-class sustainability inquiry.
“You can’t sit around waiting for someone else to do it,” says Petra. “You need to think about the future … not just living for now.”
“We (young people) have ideas and we can change the world” says Sadie.
A whole-school inquiry into sustainability
Greytown School regularly integrates education for sustainability into their curriculum through inquiry. In 2018, they undertook a school-wide inquiry into what it meant to be an Enviroschool.
The Kahikatea syndicate (Y6-8 students) called their inquiry The Power of Redesign.
They asked “How do we make our community more sustainable?” And they chose to focus on waste.
To help students understand why we have to make a change, their teachers took them to the wastewater and transfer stations and to Henley Lake.
They talked to Jo Dean, the Zero Waste officer for the three Wairarapa Councils, and went through the process of making plastic in their science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum.
Their major realisation was that plastic never really breaks down.
The students were able to dig up an intact muesli bar wrapper nearly two terms after burying it, and saw images of the plastic island that is developing in the Pacific Ocean.
Influencing businesses in the community
When it came to the all-important action-taking aspect of the inquiry, different classes focused on different stages of the waste hierarchy.
Reuse: One class began reusing plastic bottles to build a greenhouse.
Reduce: Another class took action to reduce waste by campaigning for litter-less lunches.
Redesign: Room 10 chose to investigate how they could influence a business to change something about the amount of waste they generated. Approaching the businesses had a powerful effect on the students involved.
In groups, pairs or individually, the students researched a business. When they came across something they didn’t find environmentally friendly, they were tasked with coming up with an alternative solution and approaching the business with their ideas.
Tackling plastic use at FreshChoice
Ella’s group was concerned about the plastic bags used in the produce department at the local FreshChoice supermarket.
Ella wrote and sent letters telling the managers about how plastic was getting into the oceans. She determinedly wrote seven different letters without getting a response.
Undeterred, she took her 8th letter to visit the produce manager in person. He told her she should be a lawyer and took her to meet the store manager where they discussed things that could be done to reduce the plastic.
Later that week cotton bags were available for sale in many places in the supermarket that people could use for their fruit and vegetables!
“I think I have made a difference in lessening the amount of plastic at my local supermarket. It makes me happy.”
Bread tags at Breadcraft
Millie’s group wanted to do something to combat polluting. She had visited the National Aquarium of NZ in Napier where she saw an x-ray of a turtle with a bread tag stuck in its throat.
“One idea we came up with was to design a cardboard prototype to replace plastic bread tags. It was really hard to make – it took most of the day and finally I got it right. Initially we emailed Breadcraft with our idea but got no response. Then we realised that the CEO of Breadcraft in Masterton was a parent at Greytown School so we set up a meeting one day in the library. We talked about the issue and we shared our prototype.”
Millie was invited to tour the Breadcraft factory. The CEO showed her the machines – and how fast they moved and how it would be very hard to change at this point in time. But they are considering how they might change the use of plastic bags.
Real life learnings
“I find companies put economy first before the environment but don’t realise that the cost is going to be there still – it will be to our future.” Millie
A few learning gems from the students:
“We need to realise we have persuasive skills and use them.”
“Direct is always better.”
“There is a solution to most problems.”
“We can help but we realised that it is going to take time – it [change] is a long term thing and you need to look a few steps ahead.”
Whāia te iti kahurangi ki te tuohū koe me he maunga teitei.
Pursue that which is precious and do not be deterred by anything less than a lofty mountain.
Greytown School reaffirmed that they were a Green-Gold Enviroschool in 2018.
Alex Southall, a Y7/8 teacher at Greytown School says: “I really love being an Enviroschool, as it is another way that we focus on students taking action, and being empowered to make change in any way they see fit. Students build on their learning in and about the environment throughout their years at school here and by the time they get to being seniors they are well versed in making things happen!”
Greytown School-leavers can continue to be empowered change-makers at Kuranui College, which became an Enviroschool in 2017.