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Waipāhīhī School do it their way – Reflecting to Respond, Grow and Lead into the future

August 16, 2023

Kaitiaki, Tia at entranceway to school. Tia is honoured as the ancestor of tangata whenua of the area.

Waipāhīhī School is a unique place of learning that dances to the beat of its own drum. The Enviroschools kaupapa is important to them, but they choose not to define themselves with any label. Their vision, and catch phrase, “Immersed in Learning” influences all decisions, and sustainability is highly featured in everyday thinking and doing.

Supporting students to grow their own vision, respond with purpose and lead together.

During a Goal Setting meeting at the end of 2022 with Lead Teachers I (Jenni, Enviroschools Facilitator) proposed that a Holistic Reflection would be of great benefit to the school. Together we became enthused about celebrating and reflecting on their journey so far, in a way that honours the programmes, place, people and place authentically.

An Enviroschools reflection process culminated in an EnviroFest to bring together people to acknowledge and celebrate all the learning and action. This was in keeping with the pattern of celebrations of learning at the end of each term and aligned with their focus on “Our Environment” throughout Term 2. Staff were very clear that this was not so that they could say, “We are a Bronze Enviroschool!” The purpose was to celebrate with the community in a way that would clearly demonstrate and express students’ actions and outcomes and reflect on “what next?” – true to the kaupapa of Enviroschools Holistic Reflection.

As a facilitator this was a shift for me, focusing on the celebration and providing contextual learning for staff and students in the process. The result was the whole school planning and participating together in a day of outdoor action, play, fun and connection to nature and was a great success on many levels.

Building an understanding and identifying the journey and current situation

In Term 1 of 2023, a team of interested ākonga (students) began identifying the current situation of their environment and thinking about what their next steps might be. They identified many projects and actions that have taken place over recent years and are still current.

The Reflection Team compiled lists and took photos, assembling evidence of how Learning for Sustainability, in particular, was part of their school life. They began to understand the Guiding Principles, considered the Bronze Paragraph and how the kaupapa was part of all areas of school life.

The Waipāhīhī School Vision and Strategic Goals align with the Enviroschools Guiding Principles.

The staff followed a similar reflective process, recording their thoughts and insights. A draft Vision Map grew as ideas emerged and everyone realised the value in highlighting environmental learning and action at their school. Aligning with Matariki, they decided to post aspirations on stars representing Hiwa i te Rangi.

Through discussions together, we realised that the Guiding Principles of Enviroschools were expressed in their Strategic Goals, Mission and Values. Waipāhīhī School’s Mission is: “We will achieve our vision by encouraging collaborative, energised learners with a unique sense of self and belonging.” The School Values promoted and clearly displayed around the school reinforce students’ behaviour.

An Enviro-Fest to share, acknowledge and celebrate

The whole school started planning for the festival afternoon so that each class could demonstrate ākonga connection to te taiao, relevant to their term of learning inquiries.

Ngā ākonga were invited to write on leaf shapes during the week of the event, to attach to a tree image that sprawls across a corner and wall of the Discovery Centre. These described what ākonga had learned and experienced, relating to te taiao and connections with the community.

On Friday 23 June at 1pm parents began to arrive. Action stations had been set up from noon. The afternoon festival showcased a culmination of rich outdoor and indoor learning and exploration centred on their school and local area. There was an atmosphere of pride and achievement as students shared with visitors what they had done, were doing and were excited to discover through actions of others. Examples follow here:

The Enviro-Fest Map and guide helped direct visitors and students to the different stations during the afternoon.

The offering of bush tea prepared and made by a group of Enviro Ambassadors reflected learning from “Bush School”. A local gully area is frequently visited by classes throughout the week as a “bush school” experience where bugs are hunted for, plant names and uses are learnt, and observations made. Often groups are supported by Kids Greening Taupō coordinators during these excursions.

Bird houses, constructed by ākonga during the term, were installed on trees and bird feeders were made. Younger students helped visitors plant seeds to take home in newspaper pots. Students kept the crowd entertained with a diverse range of musical performances and the second-hand clothing ‘shop’, “Twice But Nice,” was open for the afternoon and did a roaring trade! See the map and key for all that was on offer.

At the Discovery Centre tamariki proudly helped their parents and caregivers find and read their leaf on the Reflection Tree and encouraged further contributions based on their observations and interactions through the afternoon.

Patrick (Yr 6 student) invited them to scan his barcode, which directed them to his temporary website showcasing elements of school projects and special places.  More aspirations for next steps were written on stars and attached to the wall – some pre-written by students and others added by visitors later in the afternoon.

It was an action-packed afternoon, culminating in a small group meeting in the Discovery Centre. Michelle Daly, Waikato Enviroschools Regional Coordinator and Adrienne Grant, Waikato Lead Facilitator, joined Jenni and some of the Reflection Team to provide feedback. They shared their awe and wonder of what they had witnessed throughout the afternoon. The group revisited the Bronze paragraph sentences together and affirmed that Waipāhīhī School was a Bronze Enviroschool – and beyond in many respects! Jackson and Jake accepted the certificate from Jenni, with big smiles and solid handshakes, on behalf of the school.

Prioritising Next steps Action Planning

The Waipāhīhī reflection team with their Enviroschools Bronze certificate, in front of the “tree”.

The Enviro-Fest Reflection sharing afternoon was a celebratory way of engaging with the community, discussing practices and projects and acknowledging everyone involved and the many ways that Waipāhīhī School embraces Sustainability and Connection to Nature. Regular supporters of the school from the wider community, such as Lions Club trapper mentors, TDC Waste Min coordinator, Kids Greening Taupō, Community Gardens and local Waipāhīhī Kindergarten all join in the afternoon event.  Even stronger connections were built.

This was indeed a celebration to be remembered by all who participated!  Congratulations Waipāhīhī School. Your students truly are immersed in learning in authentic contexts!

At the final assembly for the term on 30th June, four members of the Reflection team formally presented the Enviroschools Bronze Certificate to the school. A debrief with the reflection team in Term 3 will confirm and prioritise goals for the next steps.

The school learned that they are living and breathing the Kaupapa of Enviroschools and acknowledged the value of the resources and the process.

The approach taken with Waipāhīhī School affirmed, for me, that the Enviroschools Reflection process is indeed valuable and flexible in ways that honour uniqueness and diversity.

by Jenni (Jennifer) Scothern-King

Banner image: Jenni with the Waipāhīhī reflection team beside the Enviroschools banner.