CERES Education Interview with Irene Meredith
Sustainability Co-ordinator, Manchester Primary School
2014 ResourceSmart School of the Year
1. How did you first get started with environmental education?
I am a farmer so I have always had an interest in human impact on the environment. Climate change and pollution have the biggest impact on the farmers who provide our food. I have been a teacher for over 45 years and I know that if the students of today understand the importance of caring for our environment then the future of our precious planet will be in safe hands.
2. What have been the biggest highlights of your journey so far?
It is often the little victories that are the sweetest. For example, a mother of one of our students stopped me in the corridor and said “It is all your fault. My son stood outside the bathroom with a stop watch and was banging on the door saying ‘Your time is up. You need to get out now. Turn the taps off.’ When I had just lathered up my hair with shampoo.”
Other highlights include:
- Winning ‘ResourceSmart School of the Year’ twice in five years was just exhilarating and gave the school a real buzz.
- Sitting back watching our students confidently run a full day of ‘Kids Teaching Kids’ activities for five other local schools and then running a workshop for teachers at the Yarra Ranges Sustainability Conference. These students are the Environmental ambassadors of the future and they know that they now have a voice.
- Running the ‘YEP’ (Young Environment Protectors) team for more than ten years at Manchester. It is always so exciting to see the confidence and leadership skills blossoming as the year goes on. Seeing students shine in a way that they had not done before. For example, with the YEP students who stand up at Assembly etc. when they barely speak in class.
(Images above: 1 – YEP students receiving their ‘2014 ResourceSmart School of the Year’ award. 2 – Irene (far left) with the YEP students at the 2014 ResourceSmart Schools Awards)
Since the YEP team was first formed, Manchester Primary School:-
- is a rubbish free lunch school – every day
- recycles as much as possible. We have gone from having 9 x 1.5 metre landfill dumpers per month down to only 2!
- has 7 x water tanks that service all toilets in the school
- has a rain garden
- saves water from under drink bubblers and taps to water our recently planted Indigenous plants through SOP (Save our Plants/Planet)
- has 70 Solar panels onsite generating electricity
- has a wind turbine
- participates in the SWEP program which tells us when we have unusual water usage which we follow up and repairs are made when needed
- is a Water Learn it Live it Gold school
- is a 3Star ResourceSmart School, and nearly 5Star certified
- has a vegetable garden
- commenced a Social Enterprise called ‘Trash Traders’ that recycles oral/beauty care and cleaning packaging that would otherwise go into landfill
- has 3 students that were awarded the title of ‘Eco Heroes’ out of 10 winners Australia wide
- have won or placed in Water Week film and poster competitions
We have educated the wider community by:-
- running a full day ‘Kids Teaching Kids’ Day for 5 local schools
- YEP students running a ‘Kids Teaching Kids’ workshop at the Shire of Yarra Ranges Teacher’s Conference
- YEP students running a workshop for teachers at the Yarra Ranges Sustainability Network Meeting
- encouraging the wider community to consider the environment during their daily activities with numerous newsletter articles, assembly announcements and films
3. What has been the biggest obstacle? How did you / are you overcoming it?
Lack of time and funding along with a lack of empathy/understanding of the importance of environmental issues. We live in an affluent, throw away world. If we put rubbish in the bin or out for hard garbage it just disappears and we do not need to worry about the impact it has on the environment. Or do we?
Most people are not aware of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch where there is more rubbish than water.
(Image above: YEP students presenting on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch)
Climate change – droughts, floods, wild weather, rising oceans and the link to leaving lights and computers on and having heaters turned up really high and air conditioners set extremely low. Yes, you can afford to pay the bills but can you afford to live with the consequences?
Teaching is a very labour intensive profession and sustainability really is a labour of love as we have no extra time to run our programs. These are always done during lunchtimes and extra work done at home during out of school times. Overcoming these obstacles is hard as there are only so many hours in the day. Sharing the work with a team of people helps and also sheer will power and determination to keep going. Believing in and being passionate about environmental issues and never giving up and never being afraid to stand up for what we believe in.
4. What future plans or goals are you excited about?
We’re excited about achieving ResourceSmart Schools 5Star certification soon.
We’re also excited about:
- continuing to reduce our energy, waste and water use throughout the school
- continuing to attract Indigenous fauna into the school ground by planting a wide variety of Indigenous plants
- continuing to educate future generations on the importance of living environmentally sustainably and how to live in harmony with the environment, keeping our footprint as gentle as possible
(Image above: The YEP team working hard during their lunchtime planning initiatives to help the environment)
5. What advice would you offer to someone wanting to begin a sustainability program at their school or organisation?
Start small and add to your achievements over a period of time at a comfortable rate for you and the whole school community. Remember that not everyone is as passionate or as committed as you.
Other advice I’d give would be to:
- celebrate every small or large achievement and include as many people as possible in your celebration. Thank people who have supported you
- choose an area that you are passionate about first, then choose an area that you are most likely to succeed in or students/school/community can see the benefits of
- find out what the students are interested in and go from there
- enlist parent help where possible
- get together a team of enthusiastic teachers that share the vision to share the work
- make it part of the culture of the school
- talk about sustainability often; at staff meetings, and at assembly etc.
CERES Education would like to thank Irene for sharing her story.
You can read more about Manchester Primary School on their Sustainability Hub blog at http://dev.sustainability.ceres.org.au/groups/manchester-primary-school/ . They also have a great sustainability page on the Manchester Primary School website.