Twelve new classrooms, a new Library, Admin area, a state of the art ICT facility, classroom upgrades, new carpets, interactive whiteboards – in the midst of all of this change, is there room for Biodiversity?
You bet there is!
At St Peter’s Primary School in bustling Bentleigh East, we are experiencing the greatest change in our school’s 144 year history, perhaps even since the school was relocated to this site in 1953.
Six million dollars worth of building has presented us with an almost blank slate in terms of our school grounds. And the opportunity was noticed in our recent External Review Report. A Key Strategy to “actively promote and build sustainability practices into the fabric of everyday school life” reflected the path already undertaken to create a school ground that not only enhances biodiversity, but embeds biodiversity into every moment our students spend outdoors in their school day.
Central to our plan was to lead the redevelopment of our grounds from within. Our staff Sustainability Team approached our Principal, Michael Juliff with the fairly radical suggestion that we co-ordinate the planning of the grounds through to planting. To build custodianship, we first must be given custody! Michael saw this as a no brainer and we seized the opportunity!
With the expert guidance of Jim Mead (our much loved VCSSP Facilitator) we undertook a biodiversity audit and were pleasantly surprised to find that even though our horizon predominantly consists of asphalt, the small pockets of biodiversity that we have are of good quality. Our EVC1750 showed that prior to European settlement the local area consisted of grassy heath and woodland. This now informs in part what we will seek to achieve in planting.
An important part of the process of developing our grounds was to survey our school community. To co-incide with mid year Family Conferences, we established a display of options for our school grounds and furnished each family with two coloured dots to have their say, “dotmocracy” style. The options included: Interactive Garden, Kitchen Garden, Poultry Enclosure, Sensory Garden, Maze/Hedge Garden, Local Indigenous Garden, Arid/Rock Garden, Wetland Garden and Art Garden.
The return of dots and response to our suggestions was resounding and highly informative. Most to least popular of these options (as listed in order above) has now set the course for how we will allocate available space. It has been noted from these results that perhaps our school should provide a “backyard” for suburban children, space to get dirt under the fingernails and mud under the soles of their shoes. Shifts in how we live and recreate mean that the school must again provide what isn’t being provided at home.
It was decided that we will do one thing at a time. Focus on one small area through to completion at a time so that the demands of this project do no become too overwhelming. The last week has been hectic. We have completed our first project – planting two raised garden beds on the north face of the new junior building with natives. This culminated in a thoroughly enjoyable staff meeting where staff shovelled 6 cubic metres of topsoil, raked it level, placed, planted and watered in 92 native plants! It was suggested that future staff meetings may be hard to endure after such a rewarding hands-on session!
The recent rain has settled in the new plants and planning has commenced for the next area. Perhaps in 144 years, the custodians of St Peter’s will marvel at our efforts to restore the landscape and return true biodiversity to our asphalted horizon.