Whole School Approach at Maheno

| By Alison Thompson, Maheno School

Where have we come from?

Starting our Maheno Enviroschools journey coincided with a period of roll growth and stretched finances, with our Board of Trustees providing extra funding until we finally met MoE target numbers and became a 3-teacher school with around 52 students.

At first our Enviroschools group was a small group of children who opted into the programme, led by the then junior teacher Stella Macrae. There was dedicated time on a Friday when these children could work in the gardens, harvest and cook produce or work on other environmental initiatives while the rest of the school did buddy reading and other activities. A parent helped to make this possible by leading the garden group (Nicky Fitzwater). The gardens were cobbled together with recycled timber and a cooking area was created in the former dental clinic; the Home and School group purchased and installed an oven in this space and families/teaching staff donated plates, bowls, pots and other cooking equipment to allow this to happen.

Soon our group got bigger and bigger as more and more children wanted to be part of the action and change at our school. Grants were sought to help purchase more equipment to allow programmes to be more and more hands on (e.g. little forks and spades, wheelbarrow etc). Eventually there were more children participating in the enviro programme then not, and most of those not participating were the junior children, as the enviro-group catered for Year 2-3 upwards. Numbers were getting difficult to juggle to accommodate the hands-on learning that the children loved and expected.

Shifting to a Whole School Approach

Feeding the worms.

Learning about the health of local waterways.











2021-2022 saw a change in leadership at Maheno School with former Enviroschools lead Stella stepping up to Principal and junior room teacher Alison Thompson taking over the Enviroschools leadership. As a staff we decided to reconsider how we managed our growing Enviroschools programme numbers and also to ensure that any enviro initiatives, ethos and action that was being taken would be school-wide, rather than just amongst a group of enthusiasts. It was decided that we would split the children into five groups – four mixed age whānau groups for children aged Year 3 to Year 8, plus a junior enviro-group for the Year 0 – 2 students.

Teachers discussed what aspect they were comfortable with leading, and it was decided a rotation of gardening, cooking (using the Garden to Table kaupapa), an enviro-learning group and an action project would be used for the four mixed-aged whānau groups. The junior enviro programme would be based around the five Guiding Principles of Enviroschools, led by one teacher with support from senior students and parents when required.

Further Development

Alongside this, development of the infrastructure was needed. Over time, things had been added ad-hoc to the garden area and the initial raised beds made from recycled wood were beginning to deteriorate and fall apart. The lawn mower struggled to mow the area, which meant extra effort from parents was needed to help with maintenance. Fruit trees had been planted throughout the area and were being endangered by sports games.

In 2022 our Home and School group decided to take on the project of redevelopment of our garden area. After consultation around our needs, they fundraised and organised community support and soon we had concrete paths, limestone raised beds, our garden shed moved to a more useable spot, large limestone blocks placed in the area to exclude balls from the garden area/provide seating for students, and some fruit trees were transplanted to better positions. This has helped provide a more accessible and engaging place of learning for our students. The lawn mower can mow around the trees and garden beds now without issue. We won a vege pod from a local New World supermarket and we are soon to add a tunnel house to the area, thanks to a grant from Otago Regional Council.

Our Board of Trustees saw the benefit of upgrading our kitchen space and used MoE building funds to turn two old storerooms into a large kitchen and learning support space. Grants were again sought through the Otago Community Trust, funding all the appliances (oven, fridge, microwave, dishwasher, jugs etc) and Waitaki District Council funding enabled purchase of a range of kitchen equipment and food storage canisters. Our community also got in behind us and shared their New World stickers with us so we could collect saucepans, fry pans and cookware for the kitchen.

Building knife skills together.

Yummy creations feeding the students.










Learning and Action 

The children in the mixed-age whānau groups (Year 3 to Year 8 students, 12 -15 in each group) rotate around all four activities each term with two weeks at each before changing over to the next.

Gardening group:

The gardening group grows a range of produce in our school gardens and also looks after planted areas around the school. Produce that is harvested is usually shared with our cooking group to turn into something delicious for the whole school. Excess produce or excess seedlings are put out for families to take (they can leave a koha if they wish, or just take if they need). Produce is used for school events and sometimes just for taste testing too. Our worms benefit from some of the garden waste, as does the compost. The children have also been learning skills around propagation and have grown native plants from seeds. Our major way of funding this group is through a plant stall at our annual Pet Day. Our next step is to add a tunnel house to the area so we can propagate and grow things year-round – in particular natives for planting around our school and community. Once again this is being funded by a grant thanks to Otago Regional Council.

Enviro-learning group:

One of our teachers had a strength in teaching science and was interested in incorporating this into our enviro-programme. Each term a slightly different topic is selected and the students undertake some enviro-science learning and hands-on activities around this. Topics that have been looked at in the past are plastics, energy, biodiversity and waste management.

Action Project:

This group is currently led by a teacher’s aide with planning support from the Enviroschools lead teacher and Enviroschools facilitator. The children in this group choose an enviro-based project around the school, researching, planning and undertaking it using the Enviroschools Action Learning Cycle. Given each group only has two weeks a term for this mahi these are generally small projects, although sometimes they can be longer-term projects across a couple of terms that different groups contribute to.

Sometimes groups chip in on school projects (e.g. currently we are working on planting some natives in our gully area). Past projects include fixing up the worm farm after the Covid era of neglect, bird house construction, food for community members, fire starter bundles from our cabbage tree leaves, bottle top art, rubbish and recycling projects, food scrap bins, school rubbish pickups and audits.

Cooking group:

Cooking up great kai in the new kitchen.

This group works in our new kitchen area/learning support space. In their two weeks at cooking the children generally make something savoury and something sweet. Where possible we use produce from the garden, although we are often donated excess produce/eggs/meat from our families/community, which we use also – particularly in the winter months when produce is difficult to obtain. Our students are now adept at following recipes so the group of 12-15 students is split into 3 smaller groups, with three sets of ingredients and equipment, so they can work reasonably independently. We usually try to make enough food so that we can share the end product with the entire school at lunchtime (even if just a sample).

We often make food for different purposes – people that are unwell in our community, morning tea for working bees, thank you gifts for people who have helped our school, food for Camp Quality etc. We are lucky that grants have paid for a lot of what is in our kitchen. We also have a full set of 80 cups, bowls, plates and cutlery that we got through the Waste Minimisation grants, to help cut down on waste at school events. For the initial set up of ingredients for our kitchen we put a list out to families and those who could donated an ingredient or two to our supplies (e.g. a bag of flour, a bag of coconut etc.)

We have families that are happy to supply eggs if we ask and we have a small fund from our Pet Day stall or other sale of goods that helps supplement this. The children make a huge variety of food, for example pumpkin soup from pumpkin grown in our gardens, mini apple pies from our apple tree, quiche using spinach from our gardens and eggs from our families, fruit muffins or puddings, blackcurrant juice concentrate, preserved fruit and jams, fritters etc.

Junior Enviro-group (Year 0 – 2 students):

Making paper.

The junior enviro-group take part in activities based on the 5 Guiding Principles of Enviroschools – Learning for Sustainability, Sustainable Communities, Te Ao Māori, Respect for Diversity, and Empowered Learners. We use recycled or natural materials wherever possible. Two senior students help with this group so we can do hands-on learning as much as possible. Sometimes a parent comes in to help too. We often learn about the cultures of the children and families within our school, and it is great to see respect and understandings about others grow while also seeing the mana of the families involved increase as they get to share their culture. A huge range of activities have been done by this group, including making paper, reduce-reuse-recycle projects, cooking with produce from the gardens, doing things to help others, making things out of natural or recycled materials, action projects like making recycled and reusable gift bags at Christmas time, learning about myths and legends relating to our environment.

Recently we learnt about Ramadan and Eid with one of our teacher’s aides from Sri Lanka as part of respecting diversity, and learnt sign language from a deaf student at our school. We made lanterns out of recycled materials for our Matariki celebrations and made beautiful artworks around the story of Māui and the Sun, which integrated our learning about space, the environment and te ao Māori.

We also learnt about sustainable transport choices and planned a bike day at school. In the future we would like to develop some form of junior garden space so we can take our learning outdoors without interrupting the garden group. Our main challenge for this group is numbers. The group is now up to 34 students, as more and more five-year-olds have joined our school. This makes hands-on learning, management and resources much more challenging – we will possibly move the Year 2’s into the other groups to ease the load a bit.

Integration across the curriculum

Enjoying the textures of paper balls.

Making reusable bags.










The best thing about our Enviroschools programme is the opportunity for integration across the curriculum. Most especially for this integration to be meaningful and for it to be in a real-world context. Cooking involves recipe reading and comprehension, following instructions, measurement and fractions, learning how to be sustainable with food. Gardening involves planning, soil and plant science, counting, following instructions, managing resources, measurement. Action Project involves reading and researching, writing emails and letters and making phone calls, measuring, planning. Enviro-learning focuses on the science but also incorporates research, facts and opinions, experiments and observations. Junior enviro-group incorporates reading and listening to stories, gathering facts, presenting information, art and creativity, science learning and so much more. Our Enviroschools times are also a great time to practice our key competencies and values as we work together for a variety of outcomes.

In conclusion, the whole school approach to Enviroschools has meant that everyone at our school is onboard and are included in projects and initiatives and everyone is active in caring for our environment. We finally got around to reflecting for bronze last year and are on our way to re-reflecting, sharing and celebrating again this year. In this time our roll has also grown from around 52 to 85+, which has also created challenges and financial stress.

Involvement from our staff, community, families, Home and School committee, Board of Trustees and grant providers has been key to helping our Enviroschools programme grow alongside our wonderful students. We feel our students get a lot out of being an Enviroschool – on top of new skills they also develop competencies and values and knowledge about the world around them.