From organic veg to solar panels - one school's eco journey
At Little Kingshill Combined Primary School in Buckinghamshire they're seriously green. Having achieved its Green Flag Eco Schoolaccreditation in 2009, the school is now working to fundraise for solar panels to be installed on the roof. Teacher Helen McCammond said: "All being well, these will be on and working by around Easter next year."
Here, teachers organise an Eco Week each year; a chance for the entire school to do nothing but green projects. Helen said: "Last year my class did activities relating to their local environment. We also have visitors in, talking about their travels and about environmental impact. Basically, inspiring our children to think of the world in which they live."
"The school had a visit earlier this year from Re-cycler." Helen explains: "This is a robot and 'friend' who come in to a whole school assembly to teach the children about the importance of reducing what we use and reusing before recycling. Of course the children adored this and, fun as it was, it also reinforced all they'd learnt."
While the school had, for years, had green as a goal, the big eco push started soon after Helen joined the school in 2008. "We have the full backing of the headteacher, Mrs Grishma Sutaria." Grishma has a hybrid car in the car park and is clearly on-message and sharing in Helen's passion.
"Back in 2008 the first project we tackled was to transform an area of wasteland in the school into an eco garden," said Helen. This project commenced with clearing days at the weekends, when parents came and helped, alongside their children, to clear the area. Then the children designed what they wanted and, as Helen said: "Through fantastic co-operation, what they wanted was achieved. We ended up with an eco garden and an outdoor classroom."
Building on the level of all-round positivity the environmental projects were accumulating, it seemed logical to run a specific club for green issues each week. Helen runs the Environment Club (and, she tells us, she's even talked her dad into helping her) for children from year one to year six.
They have a packed schedule. "We do different things each week, we're always busy; we might be taking cuttings for growing, or discussing ideas around how to improve the school site." There's often arrangements made for litter picking or putting up new hanging baskets, or planting in certain areas. Helen explains: "It's about getting them to think about the school environment, respecting it and, ultimately, taking ownership of it."
With gardening and planting comes tools. With tools come responsibility. Helen said: "The children relish using the tools, it feels so grown up. They soon pick up the correct names for them as well as the skills they need to protect themselves."
"We love to plant fruit and veg and everything we grow is organic." They've planted potatoes, strawberries, tomatoes, raspberries, beans, spinach, rhubarb - the list goes on. "This becomes a fantastic science lesson. They learn how to look after the plants so they give the best yield. The children experience caring for living things, about when to harvest and which parts of the plant are safe to eat. Seeing the children's faces when they harvest the first potatoes is priceless - especially those who think that all food comes pre-packed from the supermarket."
What's more, all this growing, has the knock-on effect of boosting healthy eating. "One of my own highlights is when we harvest some of the vegetables and then together cook them. The children find they are trying (and actually liking) things they wouldn't usually. "My class made rhubarb crumble this year, as well as leek and potato soup for Comeniusvisitors (teachers from five European countries) as well as spinach and runner bean soup - surprisingly tasty."
"Recycling's on our list of priorities too", says Helen. They currently recycle plastics, tins, paper, school uniform, printer cartridges, mobile phones, and "lots more". They compost their fruit peelings from the key stage one fruit scheme and then use the compost on their crops.
Speaking to schools that push for a greener environment all mention this notion of team work, of pulling together. Little Kingshill sees this as one of the most fundamental gains. Helen notes that at the eco club all the children work well together, across both year groups and genders. She delights in the fact that they all love to be busy working towards a shared, hugely positive goal.