A small school near Whangarei has become the first area school in New Zealand to scoop the equivalent of a seldom-granted environmental Oscar award from the national Enviroschools programme.
Mangakahia Area School’s 130 pupils and staff are just the 35th school – and the first area school in New Zealand - to receive an Enviroschools’ Green Gold Award since the awards began being offered nationally in 2004.
Enviroschools is a whole-school approach to environmental education. It encourages student-driven action, based on the principles of empowered students, sustainable communities, Maori perspectives, learning for sustainability and respect for the diversity of people and cultures.
The Northland Regional Council played a key role in bringing Enviroschools north in 2003 and 58 schools - about a third of the region’s schools - are now in the programme.
Susan Karels, Regional Enviroschools Co-ordinator for the Northland Regional Council, says the school achieved the Green Gold because it has embedded the values and principles of Enviroschools.
"It's remarkable to see how the school lives and breathes the kaupapa of the Enviroschools programme, from the Board of Trustees and the principal, teachers and caretaker through to every student at the school," she says. "It's not just the people; it's also the paperwork that supports this."
She says another key aspect that saw the school receive the Green Gold is the support students receive from the board and staff.
"The students come up with initiatives and their ideas are fully supported – the students are valued."
Mangakahia Area School’s sustainability work runs through every level of the school with classes and envirogroups addressing issues including waste reduction and biodiversity, through to a ‘food forest’ and edible gardens.
“The school is working to support the local community towards sustainability - environmental, cultural, social and economic," says Mrs Karels.
Mrs Karels says the Enviroschools awards come in three bands – from the most-often awarded Bronze, through to Silver and the rarest Green Gold. Since 2004, there have been 439 bronzes awarded nationally and 174 silver.
"Staff buy-in is now across the school, which is one of the key factors that has driven Mangakahia from a Silver level to the prestigious Green Gold," she says.
"From a student perspective it's now the cool way to be. The junior kids are really keen to do the sorting of the rubbish for the recycling centre – they think it's important regardless of the fact that they're dealing with waste."
"There's a definite feeling among the students that they're progressing down a path together – it's evident in the way the older students from the senior school help the younger students. It's not 'them' and 'us'."
The school's recycling centre – which supports the recycling programme that has been running in the school since early in their enviro-journey – is a good example of one of the student-lead projects in the school.
"It was a student's idea, was lead by students and they achieved credits for the design, construction and promotion of the centre," says Mrs Karels.
"The caretaker suggested the students were trying to put him out of work – they have managed to reduce the volume of waste going to their local rubbish transfer station from one ute-load a week down to one every three weeks."