2016 has been a huge year for the community of St Pius X, taking an active role in caring for our common home. Pope Francis’ Laudato Si inspired the students and staff to do more to our already beautiful school environment to ensure that all the wonders of creation are around for future generations. We felt improvements were needed, not only to the appearance of some areas of our school grounds, but in the way we educate others, so they too are empowered with the knowledge that they can make a difference!
Our work began at the start of the school year exploring with the students Pope Francis’ message within Laudato Si. What does this all mean? What changes can we make? How can we help – we are just kids? The students’ sincere concern for the environment and all of creation was evident throughout the weeks. The environmental team (made up of six Year 6 student leaders who have a natural love for the environment) brought these concerns together for a brainstorming session. They evaluated processes the school had in place already, and developed a plan for new approaches that needed to be established. This process was long and at times seemed too far away to reach, but with the enthusiasm of the entire SPX community (students, staff, parents and friends), we have achieved great things and are well on the way to making Pope Francis’ message a living and thriving culture within the school and within our students.
The gardens around the school were well established but we found a lot of rubbish was getting caught in trees and small plants during windy days, which not only affected the appearance of the school grounds but, more importantly, impacted the plants and animals. From here we planned working bees, as well as to become part of Australia-wide promotions such as Clean up Australia Day, Keep Australia Beautiful Week, Go Wild for Wildlife and National Tree day, to ensure our environment was as healthy as it could be. During these days the whole school community participated in a range of hands-on experiences, such as weeding, planting, pruning, cleaning, building and making – not to mention having fun while learning! We used recycled stones from the local area as part of our garden edging (this has been carried across the whole school).
We have established gardens further, placing an emphasis on their purpose in the school, including a Remembrance Garden, which will be a focal point for ANZAC day and Remembrance Day ceremonies. This garden has been redesigned to include rosemary trees, natural stepping stones, a lone pine (donated by the Hilton-Picen family at the school) and remembrance stones with plaques, to remind us especially of our two much loved school-crossing men, who passed away recently and who kept the SPX students safe for many years. In our plans for next year, we hope to have a natural wood carving of the lone soldier and signage to add to this garden.
We established and named The Emmaus Garden, which will be used for a range of liturgical celebrations and an outdoor learning environment for Religious Education lessons across the school. This garden includes our school rules, the national flags and a statue of St Francis, who reminds us to respect and honour our natural environment. Next year we will aim to have a shaded area with a bird bath, a feed station to attract God’s creations to this area, as well as signage and artworks.
We established worm farms and compost, in response to suggestions from the community about how to best reduce waste, putting this natural resource back into the environment.
Each class received a small worm food bin with posters to show what could be put into these bins and what couldn’t. Each lunch time, a student representative from each class (part of the class jobs) brings their worm food bin to the worm farm/compost area, where the Environmental Team puts it into either the worm farms or compost (depending on how much the worms have eaten). We then use this organic fertiliser/juice for our vegetable garden and school gardens – all natural! Next year we aim to extend our worm farms and compost to other locations across the school to improve other gardens.
The vegetable garden was relocated, extended and given the name The Laudato Si Vegetable Garden, to continue to bring about Pope Francis’ message of care for our common home. Our very handy maintenance man and local gardener helped with this planning and building of the new garden. Once the garden beds, vertical hangers and pots were filled with nutrient rich soil we invited the local Warrawong Bunnings representatives to help us learn about herbs and vegetables, how to plant, harvest and understand what was needed to care for the plants. As you can see from our photographs, the students are looking after these extremely well!
This is a whole school commitment and so far has been achieved by each grade having a rostered day where they come to the vegetable garden to use the recycled water in the water tank, to water the herbs and vegetables. Once the herbs and vegetables are ready, the Environmental Team harvest these and sell them (a donation) back to the community. This donation will be used to further promote sustainability, providing more seedlings and plants for the next season. We hope to also receive some seeds from these vegetables, so we can put into practice, the knowledge gained from the Botanical Gardens visit in Term 3, and start our very own green houses. This in turn will reduce the money spent on new seeds and plants.
The vegetable garden has been a wonderful source of learning and ties into many areas of the curriculum; Health (healthy eating), Science (growth of plants/life cycles), Religion (God’s creation), Geography (environment and sustainability) and Maths (measurement and timetables). Even the Arts, with the creation of Barry the scarecrow (named by the students), designed and made completely by students of Year 5, and the Lorax themed water tank, which was designed and painted by the students.
The vegetable garden has caused such a buzz with the students that they ask to do gardening at lunch time! Their eyes light up when you show them a new carrot or tomato growing and some have even started their own vegetable gardens at home (parents aren’t too keen for the worms.)
Our very first ‘pick of the season’ will be auctioned off to the parents and friends. It is hoped this promotion and fun will continue each new season, to keep the motivation and dedication for care of the environment at front of mind in the SPX community.
We explored the idea of Plastic Not So Fantastic, an idea from one of our local Secondary teachers. The students were shocked by facts about plastic and its impact on the environment and wanted to do something proactive. As a result, the school has started a Plastic Free Wednesday, which we hope to extend to two days next year. This action will make a difference not only in our school and local community, but hopefully to our nation.
We have had such a great year – hard work of course, but this all pays off when we see our visitor - Jeffery the echidna when he comes into the school grounds to say hello!
Miss Shay Kelly (St Pius X, Middle leader)