We began our work five years ago, at the start of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, but until now have not uploaded any of our projects or shared with others in the Roots & Shoots community our commitment to caring for our planet – environment, animals and people.
Putting this to right has taken a while as we have done a lot over the years. So here, broken down into stages, is Portway Junior School’s 5-year update.
2005 – 2007
Going Green at Portway – Our Local Agenda 21 – Our School Grounds
‘Going Green’ was our first sustainability project report, written for Rotary International three years ago, in 2007, and earned us RIBI’s coveted Rodney Huggins award for best school and best overall environment project.
Essentially it involved the development of our school grounds as an outside classroom, a means of teaching not only environmental awareness and good citizenship, but of effectively delivering other subject areas in the curriculum.
When we were accepted onto Hampshire’s School Landscape Programme in 2005, we all knew that the fact-finding, consulting, discussing and re-zoning of our 11 acre urban site, shared with the infant school, would take a long time (in fact we received the final draft document and site plan from the county landscape architect, two years on, in 2007). We were determined, however, to keep everyone’s enthusiasm going during this time of (necessarily) slow deliberation and planning and meet our commitment to being a healthy, environmentally aware and rights respecting school.
Here are some of things we did in that 2-year period to keep the momentum going – our LA21.
We started by giving each class a container garden area and £15 a year to spend. Working to this budget and a specific design brief to grow both food and flowers, each class produced their own unique garden in recycled containers. Each class was given a wheelie-bin by Test Valley Borough Council, who were changing bin designs and looking for ways to ‘dispose’ of soon-to-be-redundant bins together with a set of old tyres, donated by a local garage owner. Pupils were challenged to bring in items from home, that were no longer being used and to give them a new lease of life as containers for growing. The harvest was celebrated at an end of year produce show with prizes for both the wonderful and the weird.
We also started a gardening club, initially to revive and maintain the borders around the school but within a short time children were also growing food in their own small veg patch, working in the community and raising funds. One way that this was achieved was by running a stall at the local Farmers’ Market at the Andover Food Fayre. The children shared produce from their own veg bed and the class container gardens and demonstrated food growing skills, by showing visitors to the market how to transplant lettuce seedlings.
WORKING WITH THE LOCAL COMMUNITY
Understanding the importance of working with the local community, we had by this time invited friends and families and local allotment holders to get involved through helping at gardening club or joining Groundforce Days. The latter are termly (sometimes half-termly) Saturday morning workdays at which families and their friends are invited to come with their children to undertake the more challenging projects that have proved too difficult for pupils, such as weeding the newly planted wildlife hedge or digging over seriously overgrown borders.
Our young gardeners have also worked with Sparsholt (Agriculture) College students in the school grounds, after we offered the opportunity to the college to bring students along for practical experience to gain horticulture and community credits as part of their course of study.
We were also delighted to be given the opportunity to work with our local Green-space Officer. The after-school gardening club helped by planting 1,000 crocus bulbs, planting a sensory bed and planting a flower bed to their own design, all out in the community.
We also made the decision to support Test Valley in Bloom by entering the schools section. We did not have much to show, but felt that it would enable the children to feel part of a wider community of people who cared about their environment. We climbed from Highly Commended in 2005, to 3rd the following year, to 1st in 2007, an achievement made possible only by the contributions of the whole school community.
WALLACE & GROMIT
We felt that gardening and food growing and understanding the importance of soil and a healthy ecosystem in this, would be made easier across the school if we had a school food growing garden. Having secured the support of the local allotment growers, as well as keen gardening parents and grandparents, we believed that it was an achievable aim and entered the (DfES & Aardman Animations led) Wallace & Gromit Great Vegetable Challenge. The whole school took part and we came 2nd nationally! The garden was designed to be used by a whole class every week, supported by our local allotment growers and gardening families, as well as being a wildlife haven. We were not able to build the garden until the strategic plan for the whole school grounds had been completed, but the container gardens enabled us to keep growing and learning about plants and insects while we waited.
Year 4 had undertaken a separate study of snails and were keeping African land snails, to both further science investigations as well as care for (children took them home every weekend on a rota basis and almost all of the 90 children involved took them home at some point over the course of the 2-year project). We submitted our science project to the Malacological Society and were delighted to come 1st in a national schools competition. At the invitation of the Malacological Society, we took a selection of children from the 6 classes that had been involved to the Natural History Museum, where we met and talked to scientists and received the Golden Snails trophy along with prize money to be put towards an environmental area in the grounds.
HAMPTON COURT FLOWER SHOW
In 2006 we were invited by Learning Through Landscapes to take part in the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show ’07, as contributors to the next Growing Schools garden. This was a wonderful opportunity to investigate new ways of bringing environmental work into the curriculum. To this end we:
- … designed and built bug hotels and bird and bat boxes (first having had experts from the Wildlife Trust lead a bird walk and evening bat walk around the grounds);
- … studied local wild flowers (primroses) and modeled them in clay and copper wire (the wire was donated by a local electrical company following a house rewiring job);
- … calculated the amount of chalk (children had written to a local quarry owner) and flint (donated by a local farmer) needed to fill gabions for seating;
- … found out about the myriad of small creatures that live in soil and modeled them out of rubbish-from-home-destined-for-the-bin (and the copper wire we were given) but only after we had decided which materials would be suitable for outdoor sculptures (out went the paper, card and sellotape!) and that we would only use glue guns when all else had failed (because they were not as environmentally friendly);
- … turned empty 2-litre plastic milk bottles into ‘Green Men’ faces after a study of this ancient custom;
- … worked with a local artist to turn designs featuring local plants and animals into mosaic tiles to represent what is special about the Andover area;
- … grew salad leaf crops for the garden (gardening club’s contribution).
As a culmination to this, we were asked to take a small group of children to the Flower Show and lead an activity for visitors in the garden. The children decided to hand out bug hotel instruction leaflets that they had designed, demonstrate how to make bug hotels out of cans and dried plant stems and how to prick out lettuces (after all, the salad leaves grown by the school were thriving all around us!)
Surplus bird and bat boxes were sited in our own school grounds and sold at the summer fete for visitors to the fete to take home and put up in their own gardens (the selling price of the boxes had been calculated by the children as part of the project).
As part of the Tree Council’s Seed Gathering Season, all children were given a paper bag and ID sheet for the October half term and encouraged to collect tree seeds. Those that returned with seeds and fruits sowed them in pots of compost that the children themselves prepared. The aim was to produce tree seedlings for a proposed woodland walk – something that the school community had requested as part of the school grounds consultation. With the help of Trees for All we also planted a native hedge to run along an open metal fence that separated the school from the road running along its western boundary.
Out of the enthusiasm of the gardening club was born a school eco-council. At first it was mainly keen gardening clubbers and anyone else who expressed an interest. After gaining our Bronze certificate, a democratically elected council was selected, with each of the 12 classes in the school being represented. The first task of the newly elected council was to find out more about recycling and why it is important.
We had already set up paper recycling in each class and, working with the Test Valley Recycling Officer, the councillors audited the amount of paper that each class sent for recycling each day. Horrified at the volume, the councillors fed back to their classes the importance of reusing before recycling. Pupils now monitor the content of the paper recycling bins and ensure that teachers as well as pupils think carefully about the use of paper and make good use of paper-reuse trays in each classroom. The photocopier was also seen as a weak point and a reuse box is now in constant use.
Gardeners set up a composting and wormery system for garden and snack waste and a counter-top compost bin was put in the staffroom.
To raise awareness of the importance of water and how not to waste it, we worked with Southern Water designing water conservation posters. We were awarded a rainbutt kit (the first of several to be installed over the following years).
Spreading the word about living more sustainably and allowing the children to take part in this was an important feature of our contribution to Local Agenda 21. Having approached BBC Learning South about our work, Gardening Club members were invited guests on Pippa Greenwood’s Radio Solent programme, ‘Topsoil’, explaining to listeners how they gardened and grew food with the help of the local community. On another occasion, pupils from each year group were interviewed at school. They talked excitedly about their involvement in the Hampton Court Flower Show and the projects they were undertaking in their attempt to help the garden to win ‘Gold’ in what we talked about as being the ‘Gardening Olympics’. (We weren’t disappointed, as the garden went on to take not only gold, but ‘best in show’.)
2007 – 2008
YEAR OF FOOD AND FARMING
The strategic plan for the grounds was finally complete, it had been decided where the food growing garden was to be built and in June 2007 we were offered help from Barclays Bank Community Fund to create it. With their funding and volunteers, along with whole school community support (teachers, governors, pupils, parents, local Rotarians, local Allotment Association) the old school quadrangle was cleared and a new garden built. The build started in July 2007; we ‘launched’ the garden on November 24th 2007; the first class started gardening February 14th 2008; a different class took on the seasonal tasks every week through the school year, culminating in a whole school feast in July 2008.
The aim of creating the garden mirrored in many ways the aims of the Year of Food and Farming, namely to give every child in the school the opportunity to grow, harvest, cook and eat food that they had grown, to use it to develop the children’s connection to the earth and the way it supports them. For practical teaching purposes we developed a timetable that allowed us to use gardening to teach science, maths, geography, citizenship. In addition, pupils and staff were encouraged to use the garden to stimulate language and artwork and to use it as place of relaxation and enjoyment. The Garden, designed also to attract and protect wildlife, has raised beds and a greenhouse, mature trees, a small wildlife pond and bog garden overlooked by a ‘hide’ for safe viwing of the pond and creatures attracted to it, a tiny meadow with local wildflowers suitable for chalk (on which we are sited), log piles and untidied corners, a fountain and plants grown for scent, texture and all-year-round colour. There is a large sheltered teaching area, a lawn and seating.
The collage of images below records the life of the garden over the year – from the first earth moving to the final feast.
We worked with the steering group for the Year of Food and Farming South East (YoFFSE) and helped to publicise the ‘year’ from the very beginning, starting with the annual Food Fayre at Andover’s September Farmers Market 2007. As well as running their usual stall, the children delivered flyers and cards to all the farmers and growers (for many this was the first time that they had heard about the initiative) as well as those who came to shop. Although the whole school was involved in the process of growing food through The Garden, year 3 also incorporated the farming element into linked science studies of soil, healthy plant growth, the food that we eat and staying healthy. Through Hampshire Country Learning’s programme of farm visits and a contribution to transport costs provided by YoFFSE, we took 93 children to West Tisted farm to meet the people who work on the farm and understand more about where our food comes from, the importance of looking after the land and the interdependence of living things.
A year on, we found ourselves once more at the September Farmers Market. Despite a fantastic harvest in July, that was cooked into a truly delicious vegetable sauce cooked outside, served over pasta and eaten al fresco by all 360 children at the school, there was still much to take to the market upon our return to school after the holiday. In addition, each class in the school had, during visits to the garden in June, made sure to find out what was growing with a view to creating recipes based on seasonal ingredients growing in the garden. Children quizzed family members at home about favourite dishes, wrote out recipes and each class chose their favourites. This short list of favourites was sent to the Food Fayre organising committee in July and the children had the pleasure of seeing two of the dishes – a starter and a main course – cooked at the market in front of a large crowd by one of the area’s leading chefs, to highlight the delights of fresh local food. To end the project, we put together a display of everything that we had achieved over the year to take to London to share with others. A small group of year 6 children made the trip to London as well to talk about our project and receive the thanks of the Year of Food and Farming organisers for our contributions.
MORE TREES – WOODLAND WALK
A successful application for a Big Lottery Breathing Places award enabled us to complete another of our hoped-for projects and in November 2007, both the Junior and Infant schools began work on planting a woodland walk. More than 1200 native trees – some to grow to maturity, many destined for coppicing – were planted by the pupils with the help of teachers and families, BTCV and a local conservation group. The young trees were sourced from a local nursery which raises trees from locally collected tree seed.
As well as tree planting, the plan included a wildflower meadow fenced off from the adjacent playing field and accessed by a stile. We selected wildflowers suitable for growing on chalk – plants and seed – from a local wildflower nursery. Year 3 pupils marked out the site into a grid of metre squares as part of a maths lesson on area. The spring-flowering plants were planted on a very wet day in early May 2008, junior pupils supporting infants. Summer-flowering species were sown later in the year onto freshly cleared and raked soil.
Tons of rough woodchip were diverted from its usual destination – a nearby organic compost yard – to become the path through the trees. Groundforce Saturdays, gardening club sessions, lunchtimes and volunteer evenings over a number weeks eventually saw the path completed.
By the end of November 2008, the project was completed – circles of logs, benches, signposts, information boards, fence and stile installed.
DO 1 THING!
As part of the wider Breathing Places Project, we also did these things…
When designing the food growing garden, the children requested a pond to attract wildlife. We now have a ‘corner for wildlife only’ with a small pond with a boggy margin. Planting was again mostly done by gardening club and we were amazed at how quickly the wildlife moved in. We have seen frogs and newts as well as diving beetles and snails and water-boatmen. The pond is not meant for whole class study, but as a watery habitat for plants and creatures to increase the biodiversity of The Garden.
- Feed Wildlife: Bird feeding
Feeding Wildlife is really successful with the children. Birdfeeders were hung in the wildlife section of The Garden. These were checked and replenished, sometimes several times a week, by groups of pupils who took full responsibility for ensuring that food was always available. The whole school joined in with the RSPB Schools Bird Watch and we know that by feeding the birds there are always lots of birds to eat snails, spread seed and for us to watch and enjoy. When clearing gardens in the autumn we always made sure that a good quantity of seedheads and stems are left over winter to help birds and insects.
- Homes for Wildlife: Bird boxes, bat boxes, log piles and hedgehogs
Over the three years from 2005-2008, Year 4 designed and made bird and bat boxes from scratch. Our local secondary school, Harrow Way, gave us the sole use of their D.T. suite, teacher and technician for two days in the summer term each year. Over the course of the three years, this gave 280 pupils the chance to measure, mark, saw, drill and nail together a total of 135 boxes. Some of these were put up in the school grounds, some were donated to a local nature reserve and the rest were sold at the summer fete. The proceeds from the sale of the boxes buys bird seed and funds other wildlife projects.
We also make sure that there are plenty of log and brushwood piles and long grass areas to provide homes for wildlife.
- Bug Homes: Bug hotels, bug stack
As part of their science work studying habitats, the Y4 pupils were helped to make large, permanent wildlife stacks out of wooden pallets and bricks, logs and plastic trellis, sticks, stalks and leaves.
- Seed Sowing: Flowers & veg
As part of the Breathing Places Project, all pupils in the school were given the opportunity to sow flower and vegetable seeds in their container gardens and in the whole school food garden. Inspired by decorative flowerbeds around the town, the gardening club has also tried its hand at designing a flower bed in the shape and colour of the school logo to welcome visitors to school. The flowers were all raised from seed by the children themselves.
2008 – 2009
GARDENING CLUB continued to meet weekly after school. The tradition of entering Test Valley in Bloom continued, the school gaining 1st place in the schools section and the ECO COUNCIL continued its monitoring of paper recycling and composting and promoting recycling of items such as mobile phones. The Eco Council also worked with the General School Council on various projects, including sponsoring The Air Ambulance by arranging for a clothes bank to be sited in the school grounds.
GROWING SCHOOLS REAL AND VIRTUAL GARDEN – One of the commitments of contributing to the Hampton Court Growing Schools Garden was to provide materials for the VirtualGrowing Garden, a web facility for schools produced by Growing Schools. This was launched in Birmingham at the Botanic Gardens at the same time as the new teaching garden was opened to the public in April 2009. It was exciting to see that some of our contributions and made it to the final teaching garden and it is hoped that through the real and virtual garden, teachers and pupils will be inspired to have a go at some of the projects themselves.
2009 – 2010
EVEN MORE TREES
Members of the school community were invited to join in with the BBC Breathing Places world attempt at the most trees planted in an hour. Transition Town Andover helped to organise the event and a group of 25 adults and children planted a total of 30 young trees in the hour. Most of the trees were planted into a School Tree Nursery bed where they will remain until they are little larger, at which point they will either be used to fill in the gaps in our woodland planting or be planted out in the community as part of our ongoing work with the Earth Restoration Service.
SCHOOL TREE NURSERY
We began working with the Earth Restoration Service and established a School Tree Nursery in 2007. Young trees are received and planted into a nursery bed, remaining in school for anything between a couple of months and a couple of years. However long the trees remain in the nursery bed, the aim is always the same – to eventually plant the trees out into the local community. Not sure how it would work, we initially trialled the idea with gardening club. Tree whips were planted in a nursery bed in The Garden just after it had been completed in November 2007. A farmer in a nearby village was keen to plant more trees on his land and, as the bed in The Garden was needed for vegetable growing, the trees were out-planted a few months later in April 2008.
The aim was always for the School Tree Nursery project to form a part of mainstream curriculum activities and something that every child in the school would take part in. We started this year with year 5. With the continued help of volunteers from the Transition Town Andover group, members of the local community and our indefatiguable site manager, permanent raised beds were built adjacent to the woodland walk. In February this year, 2010, 90 children planted 45 trees. Measurements were taken at the time of planting in the nursery bed and again in the summer. A final measurement will be taken just before outplanting. The data collected will enable the children to compare growth rates between species and across seasons. We are hoping to plant 30 of these out somewhere in the local area during the winter of 2010/ 2011 before their carers, now in year 6, leave the school. (We are just waiting to hear from the Borough Council’s Parks and Countryside Manager with regard to a site.) It is yet to be decided which is the best year group to take this on as a permanent part of their annual timetable. The staff are due to discuss this but for the time being, year 5 will again receive new young trees this winter.
FORESTRY STEWARDSHIP COUNCIL
Working with the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) provided the perfect opportunity to link tree planting and the school tree nursery to sustainable living and the important role of trees in this. Each year the FSC runs competitions and last year one of these was for young people to write a letter, ‘as if to the editor of your local newspaper’, to raise awareness among adults of the importance of buying FSC products. We contacted the FSC and asked if they would be happy for us to do this within school and then send them the results – it would mean receiving and reading 93 letters! We also asked if we could approach the editor of the Andover Advertiser for his support. The FSC were delighted for us to do this. We duly approached the Advertiser’s editor who promised to publish the letter of his choice… provided that we sent him a shortlist, as finding time to read 93 would not be possible! The FSC also offered to send a prize for whichever letter was chosen for publication.
We put together a block of work using WWF and FSC resources to teach the children about the importance of trees in the carbon cycle and about their ability to capture and store carbon. (This also supported work in the study of plants and photosynthesis). We ran this alongside a block of work on writing persuasively. The children enjoyed the range of activities and produced some excellent letters. The FSC awarded national prizes to 3 of our letter writers and a different one again was selected by our local newspaper editor. The children were very excited and their responses in interview following the letter writing and tree planting demonstrated just how much their attitudes had changed as a result. One set of parents told us that they were no longer allowed to buy anything made of wood without first looking for a FSC logo!
The following is the letter chosen for publication in the Andover Advertiser, 26th February 2010:
Dear Mr Scicluna,
I am writing this letter because more people need to know about the FSC, what they do and why it is important. The FSC stands for Forestry Stewardship Council. The FSC helps keep forests well managed. They do this by replanting trees when they are cut down and by helping the trees to re-grow. FSC certified products can be found in many shops and online. You can find the FSC logo on many different products such as footballs, chairs, tables, wooden flooring and much more. Did you know that trees store CO²? And produce oxygen? Therefore, if we get rid of all of our trees we would have lots of CO² and no oxygen. Trees also help stop climate change by storing CO². So would you like to help stop climate change?
I hope this has persuaded you to buy more FSC logo products.
Portway Junior School, Ashfield Road, Andover.
BIG SCHOOL BIRD WATCH
Following the tradition of the last few years, the whole school again took part in the Big School Bird Watch. Amongst the many activities that took place was the making of almost 100 bird ‘cakes’ which were taken down to the older, established corner of the woodland and hung from branches to see the birds through the winter.
INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF BIODIVERSITY
Each year we work with local company Stannah Stairlifts. The children design and make prototypes on a given theme, the best of which is manufactured by Stannah. This year the theme was playground wall games and we decided to mark the IYB by asking the children to incorporate wildlife somewhere in their designs. This led to the children researching topics of their choice, ranging from snakes to ladybirds to trout.
BIG TIDY UP
The Eco Council took on the challenge of the Big Tidy Up – twice. Hundreds of children gave up lunchtimes and break-times to rid the grounds of an accumulation of rubbish. Being a large site, it is difficult to keep on top of litter that blows in from neighbouring streets and mysteriously appears from neighbouring gardens. All year groups turned out in force but year 6 produced the heaviest haul, collecting 3.5kg in about half an hour. (We decided not to count the uprooted clothes line post complete with concrete boot, otherwise year 4 would have been outright winners!)
After much discussion, children across the school agreed with their Eco-Councillors that Big Tidy Ups should be done on a regular basis and in 2010/ 2011 after-school tidy ups should be extended to the local area around the school as well.
In June, the Eco Council also organised a GREEN DAY across the school to raise awareness of energy use in particular. Children were allowed to come to school wearing green and each class had the freedom to take part in ways large or small, but all were urged to think about ways of saving energy. Families were involved through invitations to write ‘green’ pledges (which the Eco Council then added to the Team Green Britain online map) and attend a Low Energy Stall in the playground at the end of the day. Free low energy light bulbs and water-saving hippos had been provided by our local recycling officer and Transition Town members were on hand to talk about the work of the group, the Energy Saving Trust and their Green Communities Scheme. 10:10 tags were also on sale. (These were very popular with the children, especially as more than a few had had family members caught up in the flight disruptions caused by the Icelandic volcanic eruption).
The response of the parents to the days events was quite good , but the Eco Council felt strongly that more needed to be done and they have voted to run a regular, after-school ‘green’ stand on different themes.
Together with the extended tidy-ups, this will form the basis of an Action Plan for 2010/ 2011.