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Approaches to Environmental Education at Port Vincent Primary SA

Michelle Hawthorne
Michelle Hawthorne is the Principal of Port Vincent Primary School, and a member of the NEEC and chair of the Schools' Education Working Group

Effective Environmental Education is not a program you 'do', nor a policy you merely follow, but rather something that integrates and involves community capacity building.

Over the past decade, Port Vincent Primary School in South Australia has emphasised students' initiatives and involvement around their environmental learning activities. After examining various approaches that facilitated self-activity amongst students, we finally chose to adopt the NSW MISA (Motivating, Investigating, Sorting and Action) approach under the umbrella of KESAB (Keep South Australia Beautiful). An Eco-club was formed and one afternoon a week was set aside for environmental pursuits, linked to the curriculum through the Learning Areas of Science, Society & Environment and The Arts. Each year the club has had a different name and focus, determined by students at a whole school meeting at the start of each year. It has become a powerful forum for student voice, curriculum ownership and constructivism in action. An Environment Committee, elected by students, runs the club, and co-ordinates activities and actions in consultation with staff.

We enlisted the help of local community groups, especially our Tidy Towns group and local landowners. From this an intergenerational approach to environmental action has emerged. Together we have built walking trails and safe access paths to the reef, revegetated some areas, monitored dryland salinity, reviewed projects, and shared our knowledge. School and community pride are to the fore.

In recent years we have formed a strong alliance with the Port Vincent Aquatic Centre. The partnership between students, school staff and aquatics staff has been formalised as 'The Marine Team'. The Team received the National Westpac Landcare Education Award in Canberra earlier this month.

All R-7 students are involved in programs at various bands. Students over 10 years of age, for example, monitor our local reef through the Reefwatch program, and forward results to the Conservation Council of South Australia. In this way, over the past four years, we have built an understanding of the biodiversity of life in this special habitat, and will be able to monitor any changes to it. Such investigations were published on the students' CD, Jewels of Gulf St Vincent. Recently students have begun a comparative study of the new marina seabed. Results are reported to the District Council of Yorke Peninsula, who anticipate using the data to determine whether current controls are working. Such monitoring could assist in the development of minor management plans, and the implementation of future works and controls.

Successful programs need committed support from the whole school community. Our Governing Council fully supports our approach and associated projects. Over the past five years Environmental Education has been a priority on our School Development Plan.

Coordinated approaches to Environmental Education are essential. In addition to local community support, we have enlisted help and technical advice from experts, and formed strong partnerships with local Landcare officers, those involved in Natural Resource Management, Department Environment and Heritage, PIRSA (Primary Industries and Resources SA), the South Australian Museum, Coastcare, Marine and Coastal Community, the Malacological Society of SA and MESA (Marine Educators Society of Australasia). Approaches have been refined through participation in DWLBC (Department of Water Land and Biodiversity Conservation), and 'Landcare in the Classroom' and 'Cluster Schools' projects.

Our ideas, planning and methodology are based on the South Australian Curriculum Framework. Units of work have been showcased on the DECS (Department of Education and Children's Services) website, and published by PIRSA and the DWLBC.

As educators, we have come to realise change cannot be imposed. It needs to be driven, not by an individual but by a group. A strength of Port Vincent is that Environmental Education is a part of our way of life.

The success of our programs has been widely acknowledged through award recognition and by our students being invited to act as guest speakers at local, national and international conferences. In this way our students feel they can make a difference locally, set examples nationally and even have a voice globally.

We believe our students need to feel in control now, to have a say now, and to know how to access expertise now, and that the actions they take now are effective. In this way we hope to give them a 'headset' of Environmental care and concern for both today and tomorrow.

Our vision for Port Vincent is to always be an exciting centre of learning for students and the community, and a leading example of environmental stewardship and sustainability.

A version of this article first appeared in OzEE news issue 88, February 2004.


Subject Headings

Education policy
Educational planning
Environmental Education
South Australia
Sustainable development