Schools Getting smart with sustainability

L-R: Learning specialist Marcus Mulcahy, students Billy, Julia and Ryan, and principal Clem Langford in the Carrum Primary School chook run. (Photo: Meredith O’Shea)

The winner of this year’s ResourceSmart School of the Year Award is creating the sustainability advocates of the future, involving its whole community.

The seed that led to Carrum Primary School winning ResourceSmart School of the Year at its recent award ceremony was planted by green-fingered teacher Ron Kennett in the mid-1970s. Keen that students understand where their food came from and how it got to their plate, he laid the groundwork for a kitchen garden – and a small but very hungry menagerie – that flourishes today.

“Our kids realise that they can’t have lettuce or tomatoes all year round,” Carrum Primary’s assistant principal Amanda Carmichael says. “They ask questions about where it comes from out of season, and then we talk about food miles. So, we cook in-season and the children realise that the old-fashioned, sustainable way of doing things works.”

ResourceSmart Schools is a free program run by Sustainability Victoria that supports embedding sustainable practices within school curriculums and recognising schools that spread the word in their local communities. “We’ve had little bits of recognition along the way, but the ResourceSmart award was really exciting,” Amanda says of the nod.

Feeding time for Carrum Primary School's resident goats. Photo; Meredith O’Shea

Carrum kids of all ages help tend the garden and learn how to make healthy meals. Even the waste goes to good use, with scraps feeding two goats, a brood of chickens and a small aviary in the school grounds.

“The goats eat most of our food scraps that the chickens can’t, including watermelon peel and banana skins,” Amanda says. “They are very sociable animals and fabulous little composters.”

Working in the garden, and with the animals, appeals to kids with different abilities. “My hands-on learners really love it,” says Amanda. “I’ve got outdoor or kinetic options for children that don’t cope in the classroom as well as others do.”

And their sterling efforts don’t stop when the school bell rings. Organising beach and street clean-ups at the weekend, families get involved too, helping to look after the garden and feed the animals during school holidays.

“It’s a really nice feeling having our community be part of the school, and that we are part of the community,” Amanda says. “It’s a symbiotic relationship.”

“Being recognised by ResourceSmart is one of those ‘make a difference’ moments, letting the kids know that what we do is good.”

Sustainability comes naturally to Carrum’s pupils. “They think it’s funny that other kids think it’s special,” Amanda says. “Other people’s exceptional is our normal. Everybody gets to be part of it, from the preps onwards. They help collect food scraps and look after the chooks, so from a very young age, they get involved.”

At the awards ceremony, Carrum students met host Craig Reucassel, presenter of ABC TV show War on Waste, and Lily D’Ambrosio, Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, interviewing them for the school station, Radio Carrum. “I think Craig was impressed by how confident the children were, because they know what they’re talking about and walk the talk,” she says.

The win made their year. “Being recognised by ResourceSmart is one of those ‘make a difference’ moments, letting the kids know that what we do is good. They were so proud. It’s everyone together, and I’m really pleased that our community effort has been recognised.”

Kids are the best sustainability advocates, Amanda says. “We’re hopeful that as they move on to a secondary school setting, they can convince those schools that they should be doing some of these things too.”

She believes small steps lead to big results. “Everything you do makes a difference. It goes out into the local community, and then our global community. It’s really about spreading the word. If you want to see how we do it, come and have a look. We’re really happy to help out with ideas.”

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