Schools School of sustainability

Courtney Hicks with her students in the garden. Photo: Meredith O'Shea

At a Rosanna primary school, sustainability practices are at the core of school life, from recycling to composting, and worm and chicken farms.

From worm farms to whole-of-school ‘no waste’ days, at Banyule Primary School, sustainability is everyone’s business.

“Every teacher and every student is involved in our sustainability program,” says Courtney Hicks, who has served as the Rosanna school’s Sustainability Coordinator for the past five years. “It involves all the support staff, everybody.”

Beginning with school garden beds back in 2011, a few years later Banyule Primary School signed up with ResourceSmart Schools, a free program run by Sustainability Victoria that helps schools embed sustainability within their curriculum. 

Banyule PS has now developed a range of sustainability initiatives, including water tanks, a greenhouse, solar panels, composting, chickens and a worm farm. They’ve also achieved the highest possible ResourceSmart rating of five stars, recognising that the school not only integrates sustainability in everything they do, but also helps other schools become sustainable.

“We teach kids that we’re not sending paper to landfill ever – we’ve got recycling bins for that. We’re not throwing fruit into the red landfill bins – we’re giving it to the chooks.”

Courtney says one of the keys to the school’s environmental success is its whole-of-school participation. “Through the house system, students are divided into four Action Teams, representing the four areas of sustainability: waste, biodiversity, energy and water. Each house focuses on one of the areas for an hour each term and at the end of Term 4 we have a celebration day.”

Banyule Primary also adopts a student-led approach. “There are student sustainability leaders from each class and one for every year,” says Courtney. “They get to run different events at the school that we hold for sustainability days, and go to ‘kids teaching kids’ conferences.”

Banyule Primary students show off their chooks. Photos: Meredith O'Shea

Students also get involved in monitoring water usage through the Schools Water Efficiency Program (SWEP), a program available to all Victorian schools. Through SWEP, data loggers attached to the water metre are used to notify the school any time water usage exceeds a norm, allowing leaks to be detected and rectified. “It alerts me via email if a tap is left on,” says Courtney. “Then we get the kids involved in what could be causing the leak.

“We also have the four-colour bin system in every classroom for mixed recyclables, paper, compost and landfill. It teaches kids from a young age how to recycle, and where to put rubbish. We teach kids that we’re not sending paper to landfill ever – we’ve got recycling bins for that. We’re not throwing fruit into the red landfill bins – we’re giving it to the chooks.”

“Kids will bring their lunch in a container, and teachers will avoid using paper handouts. We’ll try to do everything in our books or electronically.”

Focusing on waste this term, Courtney says the Sustainability Committee is planning to collect chip wrappers for soft plastics recycling, as well as investing in a new Green Cone composter, a maintenance-free compost system. They’re also planning a series of whole-of-school ‘no rubbish’ days.

“Kids will bring their lunch in a container, and teachers will avoid using paper handouts. We’ll try to do everything in our books or electronically,” says Courtney. “We’re also having Mondo clothing coming out, to collect unused clothing and send it to countries that need it.”

In 2016, the school won the ResourceSmart School of the Year award as well as first place in the SWEP competition, amounting to an impressive $15,000 that was put towards additional sustainability initiatives in the form of solar panels, an Indigenous garden, and a ‘frog bog’ habitat, which students assisted in building.

Courtney says one of the challenges to maintaining the momentum for sustainability at the school is in keeping the content engaging and new. “The kids that are new to the school really like the whole school sustainability days, but in the upper years it can be tricky to keep it fun and interesting.”

Nonetheless, the positive impact of the program and contributing towards the environmental conscience of our future leaders far outweighs any negatives. “It’s great seeing the kids excited about sustainability,” says Courtney, “and for them to know that they’re actually making a difference.”

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