Rethinking Waste as a Whole School at Silverstream

| By Enviroschools Te Upoko te Ika a Māui

Papatūānuku: Earth Mother

In 2019 Silverstream School formed a committee of nine staff to work alongside their student Envirogroup. It was a big shift for environmental leadership in the school and the scene was set for a diverse inquiry into waste across the whole school. The inquiry took some students and staff beyond waste management into rethinking product development so that waste was never created in the first place.

Humble beginnings for Silverstream School’s Enviroschools journey

Greenstreamers by the garden

Silverstream started their Enviroschools journey in 2015 with a small but active student Envirogroup – the Greenstreamers. 

This dedicated group helped run waste minimisation programmes in some classes, grew plants, supported community projects and initiated projects like creating bird feeders and a community sharing space. 

However, meeting before school or at lunchtimes, there was only so much they could achieve.  In a school of 450 students and 39 staff, more was needed to get the whole school involved.

Hopes for a more whole school approach

When new lead teacher, Kristen, joined the school in 2019 she was keen to build on the work of the Greenstreamers and find a way to generate more of a whole school approach to learning and action. 

In early 2019 she brought interested staff together to share their ideas about what was needed to make a whole school Enviroschools approach work at Silverstream.

Some principles important to them included:

  • an Envirogroup/committee as a vehicle for direction
  • empowered students and opportunities for younger students to take action who did not have the same options as the Year 5 and 6s. 
  • an opportunity to build on the enthusiasm of new entrants who come from early childhood Enviroschools 
  • a sustainable workload for teachers
  • partnerships with BoT, parents and Pest Free Silverstream

Some specific things they wanted to see happen included: 

  • nurturing pride in our environment – being litter free
  • kids understanding and managing the recycling systems
  • an outdoor environment that reflects the love the school has for it

The teachers chose re-energising waste minimisation systems as their first goal and Enviroschools Facilitator, Michelle, connected them with useful resources and ideas. 

Something for everyone

By Term 3 2019 the staff Enviro-committee included nine staff members and learning and action was happening with student groups at all levels of the school.

There were 100 Greenstreamers from Years 0-6, working  on projects like bird feeders and recycling systems on different days of the week.

The Year 3s were exploring waste management within their own classes, picking up the rubbish around the school, and using the school’s inquiry time to follow up student-driven questions.

Year 1 students made worm farms and fed the worms throughout the year. 

Teachers were being released during class time to work with these groups as part of a school focus on teacher well-being. They also had parents help during class time and a weekend working bee.

Connecting with other programmes

To pull all this learning together, the school worked with the Sustainability Trust’s Your Sustainable School programme to implement a whole school composting, worm farm and recycling system in every class.

Classroom recycling station at Silverstream School

The school also took up the opportunity to take part in a trial of Zero Waste Education’s programme in 2020.  This reinforced learning from the previous year, and encouraged children to share their knowledge at home. More classes are now keen to recycle and compost. 

Behaviours are changing 

“Students are recycling paper without a second thought – this is ingrained. We are recycling more: we can see the bins fill over the week. And some classes have downsized their class landfill bins.  We are still working on getting every class composting and recycling plastic. The new caretaker is very ‘green’ focused and keen to get involved. He is composting green waste from around the school.“  Lead enviro-teacher, Kristen

Teachers and students are learning together

Composting at Silverstream School

“We learned about rubbish ending up at the dump. Seagulls live there. The rubbish can go all the way to the beach and can kill the turtles.” Cassie, junior student

“We have been learning how food scraps and eggshells can go in the compost.” – Lily, Myla and Ryan, Yr 3

“We can use reusable plastic containers.” – Lyla, senior student

“When we pick up rubbish it saves the environment. Last year when me and Ayla picked up rubbish, it made us feel amazing.” – Cassie and Ayla, Yr 2-3

Great learning discussions are also happening amongst the staff: 

“We have explored what sustainable shopping looks like in a school, talked about water and waste, whether laminating is necessary, if using devices is better than paper. And we have had lots of rich discussion and reflection about how the New Zealand curriculum intertwines with sustainable teaching perspectives.” – Erin and India, Yr 5-6 teachers

A Sustainable Market Day – a creative space for sustainability learning and action

The students and teachers realised that there was more to waste minimisation than putting your waste in the right bins. They challenged themselves to create products and services that will be good for the planet and minimise waste.  They engaged in a term-long inquiry preparing for an entrepreneurial Market Day in Term 3 of 2020.

“The idea of market day is to learn about sustainability. You can re-use things. You can use old things and make something new.” Lilla Yr 5-6

Wynten and Daniel made a table soccer game.  “We didn’t buy anything to make the game. We had to reuse things. It was good.”

Saul drew on his passion for sea creatures to create original collectible cut outs with fascinating facts and messages: “I made sea creatures from re-used cardboard. It’s all sustainable. I love how big, cool and strong orcas are.”

Daniel and Eric made individual shell toss games to sell on Market Day. “We used recycled egg cartons and shells from the beach. The egg cartons are biodegradable. It’s sustainable.”

Teacher, Amanda, noticed how rich the learning was through this process. Students collaborated, problem-solved and approached tasks in diverse creative ways. One student made links to everyday practices in the classroom – asking if they could change the kind of sticky tape they used to something more sustainable.

Banner photo: Market Day at Silverstream School, Term 3 2020. Following a term-long inquiry, students challenged themselves to create products and services that will be good for the planet and minimise waste.