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Enviromental values

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Stacey Passey, from Keep Australia Beautiful, looks at how the program known as Eco-Schools is faring since it was introduced a year ago. The Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) is based in Denmark and has been running Eco-Schools for 20 years and Keep Australia Beautiful took on the role of being its service provider in Australia, making the program available to Australian schools.
Keep Britain Tidy and Keep Wales Tidy have been running the Eco-Schools program for over ten years and has been extremely successful with 80-100% of schools participating. Australian registrations were opened in May 2014, launching at Harrington Public School. Since then over 150 schools have registered covering some 50 local government areas across Australia.

The Eco-Schools program is based on a framework of seven steps. Step 1 is to form a student-led Eco Committee which becomes the leader group for the school's sustainability and environmental issues. The committee is guided by teachers and will often co-opt local community experts. The committees represent all years in the school so some can be as large as 30. It is their job to design programs to be adopted by the whole school. The program is used by both primary and high schools and some Holroyd Out Of School Hours centres (OOSH) are also participating.

Above and below: Gardening and waste management are some of the most popular Eco-School initiatives, such as these projects by the team at Albuera Street Primary School (TAS). Teachers and students have provided environmental education to their school community.
For step 2 an environmental review is undertaken by the committee, looking into areas such as energy conservation, waste and litter or biodiversity.
This leads into an action plan which is step 3 of the process. Almost 90% of schools tackle litter and waste as part of their action plans, recycling and composting being popular. Step 4 is linking the program to the school curriculum.
This means teachers have to ensure that students have the knowledge and skills to participate in the action plan.

In an area like waste management this means understanding where the waste comes from and its impacts on the environment and the economy as well as being able to measure the waste and to calculate whether campaigns have had a positive influence. Teachers report that these curriculum links have helped them do project-based learning with students having a more hand-on role, developing skills in all Key Learning Areas.
Step 5 is called Inform and Involve and relates to the core group getting everyone engaged and involved in the project so that there is wider involvement both from students and staff. One school reported that they now had five teachers directly involved, an improvement on the one teacher who dealt with the environment.
Below: Participants have enjoyed the "Inform and Involve" step of the program. Here are the Darwin-based Eco-Schools engaging with their community at the Darwin Tropical Garden Spectacular where they recruited members of the public to grow vegetables at home.

Step 6 is Monitoring and Evaluation which means measuring and recording information to understand the results of projects, eg recording different species found in the school grounds to understand the biodiversity of the school grounds and surroundings or counting the quantity and types of litter items found in the playground or the volume of waste created from school lunches and whether this goes to landfill, recycling or composting.
The final step: Eco Code, summarises what the school stands for in terms of sustainability and sustainability education.

Some schools have a simple slogan, some have a whole policy while others have a mission statement or charter. Keep Australia Beautiful assists schools that have made significant achievement to prepare media releases for local news outlets as a way of telling their positive stories to the community. Keep Australia Beautiful collaborates with other organisations that have similar goals, like local councils and Environmental Education Centres, to help support the schools involved, thus sharing the workload. A small team from Keep Australia Beautiful has made partnerships with regional-based and local-based organisations, collaborating together to make an even stronger environmental education support network.

Below: The program has succeeded in being inclusive and applicable to all school types and socio-economic contexts. The program provides an opportunity for children of different ages to work as a team such as the Green Army of St Johns College pictured here.     
There is a formal accreditation for schools that successfully implement an action plan. This Green Flag is assessed by Keep Australia Beautiful and standards must be maintained in order to retain the Green Flag status.
In England some 2,000 schools have received a Green Flag out of the 16,000 registered Eco-Schools. In Australia, already five schools have achieved the bronze level of accreditation and there is an application for a silver but there are no Green Flags yet.

Schools pay an annual fee of $100 and there is also federal money alongside the money from the Australian Packaging Covenant and the Wrigley company. All up the project costs $4.50 per student. The program really does have good environmental values. 

Stacey Passey was interviewed for A Question of Balance by Ruby Vincent. Images provided by Stacey Passey. Summary text by Victor Barry, July 2015.

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