A journey of over 30 years has been acknowledged and reflected on as part of the process that Palmerston North Girls’ High undertook to celebrate their Enviroschools Green-Gold status. A day to share this depth and breadth of learning and practice with others was held recently. Visitors got an opportunity to experience what Enviroschools looks and feels like in this secondary school community and what their aspirations and next steps.
In July 2023, Palmerston North Girls’ High School (PNGHS) became the first secondary Enviroschools to achieve Green-Gold status in the Manawatū-Whanganui region. This has been a long journey that involved different staff and students picking up where others have left off. It has taken enthusiasm, resilience, passion, and a lot of fundraising to enable the school to get to where they are now.
A sharing day was held to honour the past, celebrate the present and look to the future. In acknowledging the groundwork established by those who have come before, there was particular recognition of Dr Heather Meikle who taught at PNGHS from 1990 – 2021. Heather was the driving force for PNGHS joining Enviroschools in 2006. In her new capacity, as Enviroschools Facilitator with the Manawatū Whanganui team, Heather supported the school through the reflection process and Green-Gold celebration at PNGHS.
“It takes a long-term commitment and a team to make the dream. You have to be prepared to get your hands dirty when you first start out.” – Dr Heather Meikle, former PNGHS Sustainability Coordinator, Enviroschools Facilitator.
Art teacher Hannah Pacey, and her student design team created an amazing banner of the PNGHS Enviroschools journey from Bronze (2008) through to Green-Gold (2023) along with a stunning Huia reflection board which is now an important taonga for the school and its progress (see banner image).
The question often asked within the school is “What is sustainability?” and “How can we make sure everything we do has depth and not just scratch the surface?” A sustainability philosophy was developed based on the Enviroschools Action Learning Cycle and helped to guide the holistic reflection process by looking at everything at PNGHS through a sustainability lens. A sustainability matrix was created to capture a school wide perspective, which required each department to identify and review their sustainability actions and progress annually, using the Enviroschools Guiding Principles and Key Areas.
“We forget how sustainable we are here. It’s just part of everything we do. To reflect back over all the mahi over the years is amazing, to see how it all started, where we have taken it and where it will go in the future.” – Charlotte Cobham Head Girl
The Green-Gold sharing and celebration day started with a pōwhiri with representatives from Rangitāne o Manawatū who have worked alongside the school on their sustainability journey. Guest included students and the Business Manager, Phil Marsh, from Tararua College, Jemma Bates from Whanganui Girls’ College, other ES facilitators (from Hawkes Bay Wairarapa and Taranaki) and Horizons Regional Council.
PHGH students presented a snapshot of how sustainability is seen in different facets of the school including Commerce, Art, Applied Consumer Technology, Pūmanawa (Extension) and sport.
The Multicultural, Māori and Pasifika student prefects talked about the strength of cultural sustainability at PNGHS. Presentations on projects included a student-led clothing and book swap and a library of donated ball gowns and a shoe loan scheme that allows students to have the ability to attend the ball well turned out, regardless of their financial status.
“Sustainability is not just about planting trees it is about so much more here at PNGHS.” – Eve Hill and Maddi Coenders PNGHS Envirogroup Leaders.
The school Māra Kai grows produce that is used in Food Technology classes, events. Meals from these classes are available for teachers to purchase and proceeds go towards sustaining the Māra Kai. The area also has compost bins and a worm farm to reduce wastage. A new waste minimisation recycling bin system has been implemented throughout the school thanks to the funding available from Horizons Regional Council through their Pat Kelly Enviroschools Action Fund and student fundraising through the annual PNGHS Spring Fling.
The school has been a part of He Kaupapa Tūmanako/Project Hope since 2020. This project is run through Massey University and offers students a chance to explore the world we live in, post Covid-19, and in a transforming climate. It empowers them to raise concerns, worries and connect with others in the wider community and to take action.
Each year, Year 10 students take part in the Blue Sky Project, where they spend a week working on a socially responsible project that benefits others in the school or the community. Past projects have involved fundraising efforts or volunteering for charities and creating school-based events to encourage overall wellbeing and many focus on sustainability actions.
The Welcome Wall, situated on the school Huia Centre features welcome phrases in 38 languages that reflect the diversity of the students and community in Palmerston North. Cultural sustainability is a strong theme and gives students a strong sense of identity and community connection.
It was clear from the student and staff presentations that the Enviroschools kaupapa has been embedded into all aspects of PNGHS.
“Environmental sustainability is so much easier when you embed it into your culture and bring in partners that can question everything through a sustainability lens. It will be here long after we have gone.” – Troy Gerbich, PNGHS Business Manager.
So where to next? The journey of sustainability is never-ending and ever evolving, and students have many projects they want to undertake, including getting solar panels installed. Despite numerous setbacks over the last two years, they are persevering with this project, and we can’t wait to see how they get on.
“A lot of what we do carries on the mahi from past students. We are just part of the process picking up and running with it and continuing to keep building on it further for the next generation.” – Rebekah Murphy Sustainability Prefect.
To PNGHS, reaching the Green-Gold milestone recognises their long-term commitment to sustainability and symbolises the beginning of a new chapter of their sustainability journey.
“Every change has a chain reaction, it’s the little steps that create the ripple effect to long term change, we still have a long way to go but we have travelled so far already. Reaching Green Gold status is just really the beginning of the next part of this new way of being.” – Jenny Slade PNGHS Sustainability Coordinator.
Check out the video created by the lead students!