North East Valley Normal School students tell Otago Regional Councillors their vision for the future

| By North East Valley Normal School and Enviroschools Otago

Tūmatauenga with qualities of focus, perseverance steadfastness, endurance.

Teacher, Theresa Bowen sets the scene

When we discussed the opportunity to present to the ORC (Otago Regional Council) to our year 5 and 6 students, we had such a huge response that we decided that the best way to choose the students who would, was to have them submit an application. Even then, it was hard to choose from the large number of excellent applications.

The environment is something that our tamariki are clearly very passionate about and therefore communicating with those in charge, to try to make some changes, is something they see as important.

As part of an inquiry cycle a couple of years ago, four students presented to the Dunedin City Council, asking them to declare a climate emergency. I was so proud that our kura was given the opportunity to speak to the ORC as well!

 After the students gave their presentation, I was delighted to see that almost all of the councillors wanted to say something to the children.  Either to thank them for their perspective (that was someone who was impressed they were thinking of looking after the farmers) or to congratulate them (one said that they knew a lot of adults weren’t thinking about climate change in such a nuanced way) and then others asked them tricky questions.

Councillor: “You are talking about the need for more charging stations for electric vehicles.  We heard recently from the university about options for cars with hydrogen.  Are you dead set on electric?” 

 Lena: “We know that the lithium batteries in electric cars do provide a problem long term.  We are happy with anything that will reduce the amount of fuel being burnt.”

 Councillor: “When you mention getting rid of coal boilers in school and perhaps replacing them with a wood pellet alternative, do you think we should plant trees for those wood pellets?” 

 Lochie: “We clearly don’t want to fell any more native forest, so I think repurposing sawdust and woodchips would be a much more sustainable and sensible option.”

I beamed with pride with the thanks and congratulations they got. Then when they answered the tricky questions so brilliantly, well, I almost teared up.  These kids were great ambassadors for our kura. – teacher Theresa Bowen

Regional Coordinator, Dr Robyn Zink describes the preparation and process

Four students from North East Valley Normal School recently had the opportunity to tell the Otago Regional (ORC) Councillors about their concerns for the future and what they would like to see the ORC doing. They also explained to the Councillors why it is important to them to be an Enviroschool.

Lena, Lockie, Abby and Levi (Year 5 and 6 students) talked to the other senior students at the school to get their ideas about the issues they think the ORC needs to take action on. First, they had to do some research about the difference between a Regional Council and a City Council to make sure the solutions they were proposing were things the ORC could do something about.

Lena, Lochie, Abby and Levi (and support team) waiting to present.

The students came up with lots of ideas and the team presenting to the council had to decide which issues to talk about as they only had 10 minutes to present. They decided to share their concerns and ideas around transport, resources, including helping schools to change their boilers from fossil fuels, supporting farmers to switch to sustainable practices and looking after waterways.

The students said that it was important they are learning about climate change and what they can do to make a difference and they got this opportunity through Enviroschools.

The Councillors were very impressed with how well researched the students’ presentation was and that they were offering solutions to problems. The students did a really good job getting their ideas across and were able to answer some really curly questions from the Councillors. Their answers showed they had done a lot of homework putting this presentation together and that they are really well informed about the challenges we are facing and how to help people make the changes needed.

Congratulations to Lena, Lockie, Abby and Levi and the other students that helped with putting this presentation together. – Robyn Zink, Enviroschools Otago Regional Coordinator

The Students’ Presentation

The students sum up with what they would like to see ORC do in the region.


This has been a warm winter, and I think we are all starting to notice and believe in climate change. We are representatives from North East Valley Normal School.

I’m Lena.  My name is Lochie.  Kia ora, ko Abby tōku ingoa.  Mōrena, ko Levi ahau.

We would like to share our ideas to help slow climate change down and talk about why being an Enviroschool is such a great thing.

The first thing we want to cover is transport.

I am assuming that you all know about electric and hybrid cars. Well then why don’t we use them!? Electric cars are good for the environment and, despite what you may think, can cover long distances.

We also think it is a good idea to use electric bikes! It’s not cheating and there’s a level of fitness for everyone. They’re good for getting to work, going to the shops, or just going on a bike ride.

Electric charging stations are what we want to talk about.  We don’t have enough of them in this region and we need more, assuming we want most people to be using electric cars and bicycles in the future.

We have found out that you are in charge of public transport.  We strongly suggest that you change all the buses to electric.

It might change how long buses can run for if they need to be charged up but we are sure you could work it out.


Next, we would like to talk about resources.

Trees help the planet by breathing in carbon dioxide and breathing out oxygen for us to breathe.  So, why are we chopping them down? Apparently we need paper, kindling and wood for fires, and we do, but why don’t we use wood pellet fires? Wood pellets are good because they use the saw dust produced by cutting wood in sawmills which is repurposing.

Also, speaking about paper, around town we feel there are not enough recycling bins to service our needs. If we put more around the region, there will be no reason to litter. Lots of shops have started to use recyclable packaging for their products, but, how is that useful if there aren’t many recycling bins?

Another resource we want to discuss is coal.  Coal is super bad for the environment around us and it is really hard to stop using it.

Did you know that our school, like so many others in Otago, still has to burn coal?!

We would like you to pay for some schools or some people to install wood chip burners (which we will be getting by 2024) or other alternatives like electric heaters, air conditioners or water heaters.


Think about your favourite food. What is it? Is it anything with dairy or meat? Well if it is, you should pay your thanks to the farmers who make all that!

Some people have been stressing farmers out because cows have been adding to climate change.

We need to help them, not hurt them, by helping them I mean help them switch to sustainable practices by supporting them financially.

Imagine how hard it would be if you had to change your whole entire way of working!

Some farmers have problems with their mental health because of the lack of people supporting them.  Remember they’re the ones getting up at five in the morning to milk the cows no matter how much methane they produce.


Our final thing we want to focus on about what we want you to think about with the environment is how important rivers are to us.

Our rivers hold many wondrous animals like eels, salmon and so many other creatures. Our rivers are also water sources for people and animals who need it.

So if we know rivers are such a beautiful part of nature, then why are we polluting them? I often walk past Lindsay creek and see plastic bags hanging off branches and candy wrappers lying on the ground around the river. I think we could help our creeks and rivers by having a project to clean them up.

I know we have had these in the past but people have continued to pollute the river.

We need to find new ways to educate people.  At our school, a few years ago, the envirogroup painted fish beside the drains, to remind people where it was going.

We would like it if you could come up with inventive ways to stop litter getting into our waterways.  Like putting mesh in the drains.


I like that our school is an Enviroschool because we get to know what is happening in the environment around us and we get taught about climate change.


It is beneficial that other students get taught about this at a young age.  Our school has been an Enviroschool for over ten years!


As part of being an Enviroschool, we have:

  • Completed river clean ups
  • Spoken at the DCC to ask them to declare a climate emergency.
  • Made beeswax wraps & seed bombs
  • Developed our pa harakeke – which is our harakeke plot so that students can learn to weave
  • We go up to the community gardens with parents each term and learn about growing vegetables.
  • A group of students asked all shops in NEV to stop stocking plastic straws
  • Some students went to the climate strike and did a haka for nature on stage.

We are devoted to helping Papatūānuku and making the Earth a cleaner and greener place.


To conclude we would like to say the following things:

Over the last few years, there have been many disasters, from bushfires in Australia and Greece, to floods in China. A couple of days ago, my family saw wildfires on the news in Greece. People were evacuating their homes, fleeing from the raging fires that burnt down entire forests and homes, and staring into the dusty orange sky, waiting to get on a boat and sail away. Watching that made me feel so helpless, and I prayed that no one was hurt. And, a few weeks earlier, I saw floods rushing through streets in China and burying cars under their muddy depths. I also saw a woman in China who had been caught by the flood and was about to be killed by the raging torrent.  Luckily, she was pulled out with a long rope.


This is a really big deal, and we need your help to act quickly and make change.

Enviroschools give us a chance to take action for these things and help the planet before things become worse.


Thank you for listening and considering our ideas.

Hopefully they will make a difference.

Hopefully you can see how much Enviroschools has taught us about climate change and what we can do about it.

Lena, Lochie, Abby and Levi tell the ORC councillors their ideas for the future.