From small things big things grow

IEU/Teachers Mutual Bank environment grants

Goodstart Early Learning Centre, Goulburn

With Work Health and Safety restrictions, it can be easy for early learning centres to become sterile places, with grass being replaced by soft fall flooring and artificial turf, and students losing contact with the natural world. That’s something that staff at Goodstart Early Learning Centre, Goulburn want to avoid, and it was the reason they applied for an IEU/TMB Environment Grant.

“We have a small section of the yard that hasn’t been used for much. We wanted to redo it and turn it into a collection of gardens for each of the rooms in the centre,” Claudia Quintanilla, a teacher at the centre, said.

Claudia had mapped out a detailed plan that included garden beds, tools for children and the part that is most exciting – a chicken coop!

The grant will also assist with the setup costs. The children are excited about being able to sell vegetables and eggs to family and staff. This income will then be used to buy more seeds and care for the chickens. Claudia said how it was important that the whole project becomes sustainable.

St Bernard’s Primary School, Batehaven

Lots of schools have their own vegetable patch or agricultural garden, but not many have a fully working hydroponic garden system, remotely maintained and monitored by student constructed micro computers. It might not be a reality yet, but that’s exactly what the team at St Bernard’s Primary School in Batehaven are planning to do.

Teacher Sallyann Burtenshaw was successful in her application for an IEU/TMB Environmental Grant to create a Sustainable Maker Space. Supported by David Day from CEO Canberra Goulburn and Teresa Hopman, the iCentre Assistant at St Bernard's, Sallyann will be working to promote environmental responsibility and action in students by engaging them in dealing with authentic problems. In addition, students will learn to use technology, design and critical thinking skills. The school recently won in 2016 STEM Innovation Awards for this project.

The micro computers (a mix of Raspberry Pis and Arduinos) will be used to maintain nutrient levels, lighting cycles and ventilation fans. Students will need to learn to write the programs so that data is logged. Sally-Anne also wants to use the sensors attached to the computers to monitor the water quality at the local creek as part of Streamwatch.

David said: “Makerspaces are a big movement in education around the world. There’s good educational philosophy behind it. It’s about learning by doing and investigating”.

Teresa said: “It’s building on the work that we’ve already done at St Bernard’s. Last year we held a MakerFaire which allowed students to show off their work to the rest of the community”.

It is expected that the Sustainable MakerSpace will be in place by December.

St John the Apostle Primary School, Florey

Learning Support Assistant and Kitchen Garden team member Karen Norley said she felt like “she’d won lotto” when she found out her application for an IEU/TMB Environment Grant was successful.

Karen applied on behalf of the school and the other team members (Angela McDonald, Melanie Monaghan, Leticia Young) to develop their already thriving Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden program.

The environment grant will be used to add some infrastructure to the garden – Karen is planning on building a shed to store tools (they are currently stored in the staff room) as well as establishing some greenhouse areas so that vegetables can be grown all year round. There are also plans to establish a watering system in the garden.

The Kitchen Garden program has been in place at St John the Apostle for almost 18 months, and has involved the whole school and community. One of the parents assisted with the design of the garden, and the local high school helped to build the chicken coop.

‘There’s a really good buzz,” Karen said, explaining how parents and grandparents contribute their time and knowledge for working bees at the school.

It’s about more than just growing vegetables. Year 1 are using the garden as part of their science lessons, and Year 5 used their mathematics skills to work out what could be bought with the grant money at Bunnings.

Loyola Senior High School, Mount Druitt

The wicking kitchen garden at Loyola Senior High School, Mount Druitt is about much more than just growing vegetables and herbs. Instead, the project’s leader, teacher Bridget Ward reckons that this project will help develop community spirit amongst the school.

“We have more than 70 cultures at Loyola. We want all of those cultures to learn about sustainability,” Bridget said.

Bridget and Sally-Anne Martin are both VET teachers at Loyola, and part of the Sustainability Team at the school. The wicking kitchen garden was the idea of the sustainability team, who wanted to encourage a more hands on approach to learning – but in a way that was sustainable and low maintenance, even when students are not at school during the holidays.

Loyola has a Trade Training Centre and there are seven hospitality classes in addition to a school cafeteria, staffed by students. All of this provides a fantastic opportunity for students to take part in a sustainable model of agriculture – and the centrepiece for that will be the low maintenance garden beds that will be built with the IEU Environmental Grant funding.

The garden will be maintained by students as part of formal programs, like the business services and early childhood education courses. In addition, students will be able to perform community service by looking after the garden. The food from the garden will be used in either hospitality classes or in the school’s cafeteria – the La Cova Café.

Keith Heggart