This week I was inspired by the journey of reflection we took as the Enviroschool team looked back over the work that the school has been doing and decided that Queenstown Primary School are now a Bronze Enviroschool. Queenstown Primary School is one of the largest primary schools in our district and is based in the heart of Queenstown.

When I first started my role as the Enviroschools facilitator and Zero Waste educator for the Queenstown Lakes District (many thanks to QLDC and Wanaka Wastebusters for funding this role) four years ago, Queenstown Primary (QPS) was set in my sights as a school that I really wanted to work with.There has always been this myth that there is a divide between Wanaka and Queenstown and the two communities are really different. Something has always niggled me about this myth, I have a feeling that at the core, our two communities are more similar than many acknowledge. Is it in fact myth rather than truth? What better way is there to understand a community than working with their young people?

It was just over two and a half years ago when I was put in touch with Nicky Gray at Queenstown Primary. She had the vision and drive to help Queenstown Primary take steps to become an Enviroschool and carry out the all important work that it means to be a school working towards a sustainable future. She had the backing of  the principal and a few other staff members. Before we knew it QPS was signed up as an Enviroschool and it was full steam ahead.

If you’ve been a reader of my blog for a wee while then you can’t  have failed to have read a post or two about QPS and the wonderful Enviroschools and Zero Waste Education work they have been doing. In fact they have been so busy doing the jobs that they have struggled to find the time to pull their waka over to a quiet pool and formally reflect upon their progress as an Enviroschool and go for an Award.

The Enviroschools Awards process has changed recently (in my opinion it has changed in a very positive way) and as we have been telling our schools about the changes, it has inspired some of them to decide that they want to take part in this process and go for an award. Queenstown Primary are one of them, it just so happens that this is my first school to reflect in this new way.

To go for a Bronze Award, school has to assemble a team of students and staff to take part in a process that lasts about three hours. School needs to spend some time before hand reflecting upon their journey so far. Start thinking about the work that they have done which supports the Guiding Principles and how this is seen across the four Key Areas. I’ve been working with Nicky and Alison for a few weeks now on this task. To help us along this journey of reflection we held a full staff meeting about it so we could enlist the memories of all the teachers and make sure that we haven’t missed any of the work that would contribute towards us getting our Bronze Award. This meeting was a huge success and as expected, it allowed us to see a few projects that we’d forgotten about.

As Nicky and I reflected upon the meeting and started to plan a pre-reflection session with the students, we realised that it was time to take the plunge and do the session for real. We took a big deep breath and decided Thursday 23rd June 2011 was going to be the day.

We decided upon an afternoon session, we felt that it was easier to get the students released from class for an afternoon session. We gathered in one of the new rooms at school and I was armed with a power point, flip charts, post it notes, pens, an Enviroschools kit and reflection pack, lots of energy and most importantly, some kai.

We had decided upon following the Waikato Bronze reflection session that is outlined in the reflection pack. It seemed to fit best with QPS and our style, but we also realised that at any point during the session it was likely to change and adapt into ours. I mean, it wouldn’t be Enviroschools if everything went according to plan. The truly great thing about the Enviroschools programme is that its design and execution allows us to do this easily and constructively.

After I gave a brief intro to the process it was time for us to start the real mahi. I had written each of the five Guiding Principles (GP) of Enviroschools (Empowered Students, Building Sustainable Communities, Maori Perspective, Learning for Sustainability & Respect for Diversity of People and Cultures) at the top of flip charts and placed them around the room. These were accompanied by short descriptions of the guiding principles, post it notes and pens.

We split into groups of two and three, and each group took a GP. We had 5 minutes to discus this GP between ourselves and then we were to report back to the group about what this GP meant to us and how we can see examples of it in school.

Now that we were feeling even more comfortable with what each GP meant, we used the post it notes to record examples of which projects supported each GP in school. Once we’d done a lap of all the GP’s, putting down a list of projects under each, we found ourselves back at the one we started on.  After a couple of minutes reading, it was time to take turns telling the rest of the group where our GP could be seen in school.

As we presented the examples to the group we decided to think how much these projects are supporting the GP, grading them with one, two or three ticks. The higher the number of ticks, the greater the depth and support. For many years I’ve avoided post it notes, they felt wasteful to me, but recently I’ve seen that if used correctly they are anything but wasteful. At this point in our reflection we were about to seize their true power. As we discussed the crossover of these projects we were able to pick up the post it notes and move them towards others that were linked. The combination of clustering and the ticks was an amazing visual way to gauge the breadth and depth of these projects.

It’s all well and good talking about things we have done, talk is easy. What we wanted to do is find evidence that these projects are alive and well at QPS. Alison had printed off some photos from projects of years gone by and we took them around the room placing them next to the projects on the GP flip charts.

An important part of  my role in this session is to listen to conversations from everyone as these projects are discussed. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that how someone describes experiences is an indicator to the listener about how involved they were and how much enjoyment they gained from these experiences. The conversation was amazing, full of real depth and understanding, all of it spoken through mouths that were shaped into big happy smiles.

What we have to do now is go looking for  more evidence, something tells me it’s time for a tour. Armed with cameras, post it notes and pens we set off to gather evidence in true detective style.

First stop, the Middles worm farm. This is an ever-evolving food waste system. We are now in version two, both this and the previous version have been the Wormworx wooden worm farms and placed on bare earth, in almost the same place. Lessons were learned about the placement of version one and we decided to put version two in a slightly different location. The worms have an escape route so we have to make sure that they are well fed in order to keep them. To do this, there is a system of buckets to put the food waste into at morning tea and lunch time. One for the worms and another for chickens.

We understand that worms won’t eat all of the food waste, so we have an alternative route for the rest of the waste which isn’t the landfill route. Thankfully there are a few teachers at QPS who have chickens at home. The buckets have reminders of what the worms like to eat on them. There is a third bucket too, this is filled with tepid water and has a scrubbing brush attached to it. Real recycling is important to QPS and as such they take the time to swill out their yoghurt pottles before they put them in their recycling.

Reuben was keen as mustard to show us his take on worm farms. A wee while ago now I worked with the “sMiddles” to help them learn more about worms and compost systems. As part of this work some classes designed their own more individually styled worms farms. The worm tube was chosen as one to be built outside one of the classes and it seems to be working reasonably well.

On our journey to the next destination we stopped off at the beautiful mural depicting the legend of Lake Wakatipu. This is made of a combination of individual drawings by groups of students and is full of bright vibrant colour and energy. I just love the hand prints of everyone involved.

As we took a walk down to the Middles worm farm, outside the swimming pool, we found Mrs. Fergusson’s class outside carving stone. The GP exercise we had just been doing had really highlighted the fact that QPS are very focused on increasing the Maori Perspective within school across all of the four Key Areas. Seeing these young people actively involved in their carving (many of the designs were koru patterns) was just fantastic. This wasn’t planned, just one of those activities that demonstrates QPS’s commitment to Enviroschools and their students’ learning. A couple of the students from this class have been involved in design and looking after of their worm farm, so we, by chance, had a guided tour of  this worm farm from them.

Next stop is the new senior pod and Miss Reed’s classroom. As soon as you enter the pod doors you are greeted with some vibrant artwork over the doors. You certainly know that you are entering a room in a school in New Zealand. Lying on the floor are some more amazing artworks created on old corrugated iron which will inject even more colour and energy into the school grounds once they are finished and mounted.

As we quietly enter Miss Reed’s classroom, walking into a rather intense maths test, we can see evidence of true learning for sustainability all over the walls. Their theme this term is “Plastic Fantastic”. This is raising some amazing discussion on both sides of the debate, is plastic actually fantastic or not? Could we live without it? Or, is it in fact useful to us but detrimental to other species and eco-systems that inhabit our planet? These are the questions that Miss Reed’s class are doing a very good job of answering.

En route to the entrance of QPS we walk around the back of the senior pod to look at the vege gardens that were started last year and are planned to be expanded upon this year. As you can imagine, at this time of year there is very little growing, but it’s obvious that the gardens were productive in the summer. We walk past trees that have wires dangling from them which have been home to pieces of dried food to feed the birds and discussion starts about making the effort to get some more dried fruit to hang there. Our feathered friends would really appreciate some food at this time of year.

As we reached the entrance we could see even more food waste and pottle washing buckets outside the junior classrooms, QPS are doing such a great job of capturing their food waste. Week by week the word spreads throughout the school with more and more classrooms and syndicates getting involved.

QPS has just had a new entrance way built and some of us who read the local papers will have noticed a rather sad story appear on the front page of the Mountain Scene a couple of weeks ago. The QPS Envirogroup were involved in planting up the new entrance way. Everyone loved it, it was such a rewarding action, these students knew that they would see the plants they planted every day as they enter school. That was the case, until someone decided that they deserved the plants more than QPS did. During one night all of the freshly planted plants were stolen.

As you can imagine this was absolutely devastating to the students and school. I mean, quite frankly, I’m disgusted, how is something like this possible? I don’t really get theft, but this example just takes the biscuit on sheer bewilderment in my mind. The value of the plants stolen was slightly less than the minimum allowed to claim on insurance. Thankfully the Mountain Scene reported that landscape architect Paddy Baxter who voluntarily designed the new school entrance and Price Landscaping owner Simon Price have come to the rescue, and are paying for the replacements.

As we returned to our workroom for the afternoon we realised that we had had rather too much fun on our tour and the clock was ticking. We dove straight back into the work. We sat and read the Bronze paragraph line by line. What words stuck out? Did we think that Queenstown Primary would be a shining example of what was written here? Could we provide evidence to back this up? The answer was a resounding YES! I am pleased to announce that after two and a half years of amazing work we have all decided that QPS are indeed a Bronze Enviroschool.

In true Enviroschools fashion, Reuben helped master detective Ben fill out the award certificate whilst the rest of us gathered the evidence together which will be tidied up by the Envirogroup at their next meeting. We feasted upon celebratory cookies and relished in our achievements….Well done QPS, you are indeed an inspiration! I’m already looking forward to the school wide celebration and presentation of the award plaque……….

Oh…..I almost forgot, just in case you were wondering, this Queenstown / Wanaka myth…..yup, it’s just a myth. Both communities are different, but, at their heart lie some amazing people who care about their community and place. My afternoon with QPS showcased some of the amazing work our young people are doing not only in school but within their communities. Their vision and determination to create positive change through action projects should be used as inspiration to us all. We’re all in this together, so lets stand tall, work together and build the most amazing district we can, not only for ourselves but for our visitors too, this year and every other year that follow. How lucky I am to be living in this district I now call home.