First published with The Courier – https://www.thecourier.com.au/story/5443502/schools-creating-the-next-generation-of-environmental-warriors/?cs=62
While government leaders struggle to tackle the waste and recycling crisis, a different league of leaders are creating the next generation of environmental warriors.
An increasing number of schools in the Ballarat region are signing up to be a part of the ResourceSmart Schools program.
It’s a Victorian government initiative that assists educators to embed the principles of sustainability into everyday school life, while encouraging practical learning and reducing school costs.
But the program is also making an impact beyond the school gate.
ResourceSmart Schools regional project coordinator Paul Lehmann said pupils take environmentally friendly attitudes and actions home to their parents and communities.
“It is not only changing the attitudes of students, it is also changing their parents, wider family, community, footy clubs netball clubs, you name it,” he said.
The ResourceSmart Schools program offers a model of five star certification to track achievement in sustainability.
Project facilitators support teachers to deliver the program, involving action toward reducing waste, energy, and water and improving biodiversity.
Five star schools are recognised as leaders in sustainability.
ResourceSmart Schools Ballarat region facilitator Rick Balchin works with 22 participating schools in the Ballarat region, where students are racing to make their school the region’s first five star participant.
More than 2800 schools are signed up to the program state wide, with 691 active, and more registering each week. Clunes Primary School, Creswick North Primary School and Mt Blowhard Primary School signed up to the program in the last two weeks.
Schools establish ‘green teams’ made up of sustainably minded students who are excited to take on responsibilities to pass each module.
Mr Lehmann explained the program was designed to be implemented by students, while teachers were there to merely supervise.
“The students are excited to take it on themselves,” he said.
Project facilitators visit schools to help teach students to complete tasks like water monitoring, reading electricity bills and gardening.
“Schools are saving thousands of dollars every term by being actively involved in the ResourceSmart Schools program,” Mr Lehmann said.
“I had a school where they had a 90 day water bill. Every time it would come in at $2800 for 12 years. We found one of the metres and couldn’t find the other. We walked outside of the school, up the street and sure enough there was a cement tank sitting in an oasis of flowers with a broken pipe – this tank had been gushing water out of its top for 12 years and nobody knew. It was turned off and the next bill was $49.95.”
Grampians Central West Waste and Resource Recovery Group chief executive La Vergne Lehmann said the program’s biggest success was seeing students translate what they learnt at school to life in the family home.
“When they learn how to read the school’s electricity bill for example they go home and look at their parents bill. We had one young girl look at their parents bill and she realised their hot water system was on peak, not off peak. They were able to change that and reduce their cost of electricity,” she said.
“Instead of mum having to nag the kids to turn the lights off we are now finding kids going home and telling mum and dad what to do. We are finding kids are often more literate in that space than their parents.”
Urquhart Park Primary School pupils began their ResourceSmart Schools journey earlier this year.
But with sustainable principles already embedded into school life, the school is on track to reach five star certification by the years’ end.
A tour of the school reveals litter free yards, wrapper free lunches, sustainability embedded into curriculum and excited young minds.
Many pupils work in the vegetable garden at lunch time ripping cardboard boxes for composting, watering, and cleaning the chicken coup.
A group of four grade six students work to remove weeds from an area which will soon be transformed to an edible indigenous garden.
They look for worms in the worm farm and put food scraps in compost.
Sustainable Gardening Kitchen teacher Kerry Hartmann said she was proud to see the ‘green team’ excited about sustainable projects and the whole school take ownership and pride in place.
“We want to incorporate sustainability into everything we do. That is our aim,” she said. “This just happens. We teach them how to do things but I don’t run it. This is how they have chosen to spend their lunch time.”
We want to incorporate sustainability into everything we do.
The school made the move to ‘wrapper free’ 18 months ago, encouraging students and staff to pack food in containers rather than plastic.
Ms Hartmann said the school grounds had been litter free since.
“It hasn’t been difficult and just shows how small changes can make a difference,” she said.
Everything is made on site at the school canteen and students cook using vegetables from the garden as part of the Sustainable Gardening Kitchen program.
“These are changes the kids will take with them for the rest of their lives. It is about just starting with one little change and seeing what a big difference that makes. We try to do it from a positive angle, but we are all in it together,” Ms Hartmann said.
Project coordinator Paul Lehmann is passionate about promoting the ResourceSmart Schools program with potential to do more than change schools.
He said a Monash University progress report on the program revealed it wouldn’t progress without getting out of schools and into the wider community.
The Sebastopol Salvation Army store is working to become the first ResourceSmart Salvation Army store, while a group of students at Federation University want to become the first ResourceSmart university.
Kindergartens are also signing up to be involved.
“I want to have a knitting club that is going to be resource smart, or a men’s shed,” Mr Lehmann said.
“It’s not about ResourceSmart Schools, it is about ResourceSmart communities. If we only focus on schools we will only ever reach that target. We have to get it out of schools and into the wider community. That is our focus.”