The paper police are advancing. They are the plain-clothes type, but even in mufti, they exude focus as they move from classroom to classroom. Rubbish is taken out of big bins and sorted. Questions are asked. Could this bit of paper be reused? Is this card able to be recycled?
Leah Giblin, 9, one of the paper police, marks findings on a clipboard. Anthony Wolland, 9, stands by, an able assistant to a supremely efficient colleague.
It's serious stuff. At Matapu School, the paper police's headquarters, the class with the best paper statistics at the end of each week receives an award, a carnivorous plant that is shared around. Pupils are rostered on each week to take a turn at being police.
Teacher Jess Brocas says real- life learning takes place in the exercise. There's maths involved in analysing the figures, adding up points and compiling charts, so "it's a hands-on experience for them". The environmental value - the recycling message - is also valuable. That's the banner the paper-analysing exercise sits under.
Matapu School is one of 20 Enviroschools in Taranaki. The programme is a nationwide one, run independently from region to region.
Locally, it's been running for nine years, but in 2009 suffered a blow when the Government withdrew funding, eventually forcing the number of part-time co-ordinators to drop from three to one.
District councils still support it. New Plymouth contributes $15,000 and Stratford chips in with $4500, although at both councils the money varies from year to year. South Taranaki district pulled its funding two years ago.
Now there's a new funding partner. Taranaki Maori organisation Parininihi ki Waitotara Incorporation (PKW) has announced a $20,000 boost to the project, saying it has a vision for Taranaki's future land managers and it's enlisting Enviroschools to help.
Enviroschools co-ordinator Rachel Eckersley, stretched among the region's 20 schools, can now spend more time at each one, feeding ideas to teachers, helping inspire students and spreading the message of sustainability.
She will have a new colleague, Pounamu Skelton, who will undertake training to support both Enviroschools and a related Maori initiative, Te Aho Tu Roa, designed for situations where learning is in te reo.
South Taranaki schools will welcome the news, for they have missed out because of the funding shortfall, Eckersley says, and a third of the money will go to facilitating work there.
Jess Brocas started teaching at Matapu a year ago with a background in environmental education working in Christchurch. She has a passion for the subject and existing knowledge, but says fitting it into other classroom work can be hard. Working with an Enviroschools co- ordinator is much better.
"Teachers try to take the initiative, but you get so much more from having someone who can facilitate, who can help you plan and direct, and reflect on what you are doing. It means you have the opportunity to enhance children's learning rather than thinking, 'Am I doing the right thing?' "
If there's a sense you could be doing more, ask Brocas, what is "more"? "Where could you be doing more? Let's face it, we are all overwhelmed with what we're already doing."
Opunake High School joined Enviroschools some time ago, although teacher Andrea Hooper, like Brocas, became involved a year ago. She and colleague Peter Clement take 25 students once a fortnight for an Envirofit class, which is an optional subject.
There, the students explore a range of issues and learning associated with the environment, but Enviroschools is also integrated into other subjects in the school such as social studies, maths and English.
That's the beauty of the programme and one emphasised by schools that Taranaki Daily News spoke to. It's developed so it fits the curriculum, rather than being a laborious add-on.
"The [Enviroschool] guys we work with are the experts. Without them it puts all the pressure and preparation on us. I'm a chemistry teacher and have a passion for the environment, but I don't have lots of tricks up my sleeve," says Hooper.
"Literally, they turn up with everything prepared for us, which is wonderful."
In addition, being part of the programme means schools that are involved link with other like- minded teachers.
Regional days are held for students to share, brainstorm and undertake activities. It means that, if one school is interested in a project, it feeds off the experience of another, rather than muddling along in isolation.
Long term it makes the programme more sustainable or less "token", says Hooper. "If we are going to make a better world, we have to work together to encourage long-term change."
Rural five-teacher primary Toko School joined Enviroschools late last year and already has some initiatives on the go: an orchard, vegetable gardens, recycling systems, and the Paper4trees programme.
Enviroschools also feeds into other aspects of learning at Toko School, such as Maori mythology, says teacher Maree Stark.
"We have made a conscious commitment to have it incorporated into everything and to getting the kids out there, doing stuff," she says.
Earlier in the year they planted kumara. "It was a whole new learning thing and then they dug it out with their hands, which was great fun."
Enviroschools gives the school an edge because it helps students and teachers "dig a bit deeper into why we are doing things".
She hopes the new funding means more visits from co- ordinater Eckersley. "At one point, we thought we might not see her very often at all."
Professional development for the teachers is particularly valued, Stark says, and it's low- cost, no-frills upskilling, with teachers more likely to sit down to pizzas cooked in an earth oven than catered lunches.
Teaching Toko's students about the environment is a reflection of the time we live in.
"Children need to learn about sustainability," she says. "Young kids really take on board stuff and get very excited and, if we can keep them excited, you are bringing them into adulthood as pretty cool people."
PKW is providing $20,000 for a year rom July 1, with the funding to be reviewed, says chief executive Dion Tuuta.
The incorporation sees Enviroschools as one way to help reignite connection with the land, particularly in Maori primary school pupils and their families. There's a need to identify shareholders in PKW who may not be aware of their ownership, he says.
"We think this is a good way to do that, and, in terms of our farms, it's a partnership with Enviroschools that has the potential to teach us something about sustainable farm practices," Tuuta says.
"Sustainable" is an emotive word that means different things to different people, he says. For him, being able to swim in a Taranaki stream with his children sums it up.
"My kids love swimming at the Merrilands Domain. I want that for their children and, for that to happen, farm practices and the ways we treat land have to be done within sustainable limits."
At the same time, the need to increase production to help build the New Zealand economy is also recognised by PKW.
"We have to be mindful that, yes, we need to improve production, but in sustainable ways that don't end up impacting on the environmental bank for our kids," he says.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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