Dapto High School
About our school
Established in 1958, Dapto High School is a key part of the Illawarra community. Located at the base of the Illawarra Escarpment and just a few kilometres from Lake Illawarra, there is no shortage of natural inspiration for the 1,000+ students and 100+ staff who call it this school home.
Over the years, our school has had to constantly adapt and change to meet the needs of their community and surroundings. The school motto: ‘Inspire. Explore. Create’ has fuelled this holistic commitment from the leadership of Principal Andrew FitzSimons all the way through to staff and students. The school is committed to modelling a responsible approach to issues of sustainability and climate change. We are proud to be one of the first schools to join Sustainable Schools NSW and have been a member school since the program’s inception over 17 years ago. In 2019 the school was recognised as the ‘NSW 2019 Keep Australia Beautiful Sustainable School.’
Our journey to sustainability
Starting in the 1990s with a Clean Up Australia Day campaign to link practical outcomes with the Human Society and its Environment (HSIE) curriculum, the school has now built up an extensive range of sustainability projects and programs across the 32-acre site:
- In May 2018, we installed 400 solar panels providing almost 100% of the school’s energy requirements.
- We implemented a range of energy efficiency measures including lighting retrofits [LED], pre-holiday shutdown protocols, timers on hot water boilers, installing blinds on all windows, solar hot water systems and solar film on western and northern windows.
- We collected 100,000L of water in 8 tanks on site, for gardens and livestock. This included establishing water saving protocols to track water use data. Ageing bubblers have been replaced with ‘water stations’ delivering chilled, filtered tap water and most students now bring a refillable water bottle.
- The organic waste from the school’s hospitality course and canteen is used for chickens, 8 worm farms and compost bins.
- Our canteen is plastic-straw free.
We also implemented the following:
- 5 chilled bubblers to reduce bottled water purchases
- the successful ‘Return and Earn’ container collection program, with 200,000+ now processed.
- an extensive recycling program including paper, mobile phones, toothpaste tubes, e-waste, steel and printer cartridges
- clothing pool and free second-hand uniforms to reduce uniform waste.
- We planted deciduous trees for warmth and shade, extensive native and food gardens and a native peace garden.
- Year 7 students plant a tree each year as part of their Humanities Project. They are charged with looking after it during their schooling and then bringing their grandchildren to sit under it. In recent years, we have planted ‘food trees’ such as mulberry and lemon. Our school is an ornithological paradise; students and staff are encouraged to identify and enjoy.
- The use of bicycles, scooters and skateboards has tripled since providing secure storage. Collaboration with Wollongong City Council has seen a marked improvement in the bike paths around our school.
How we did it
Relentless positive pressure. A consistent thread in the school’s development has been a desire to embed sustainable practices and learning opportunities for students wherever possible. Our senior geography teacher and green team leader, David Bateman has taught at the school for 26 years and has played a key role in implementing many of our projects.
Sustainability and associated environmental issues are a central part of most subjects taught, with support from the Principal and senior staff to engage students creatively with current environmental challenges and opportunities.
Key factors to success
David and the P&C President, Traybee McLean, have identified the key factors that have contributed to the success of the school’s sustainability program:
Follow the energy
I find kids that have an interest and encourage it and encourage their passion for the environment. That’s when you see things really start to grow! Find out what students and teachers are passionate about and start with programs that connect with those interests.
It’s a team effort. Chat to the Principal and green team leader. And make sure you get the P&C involved, as they can really help drive things forward.
Seek input from a range of staff members. More experienced teachers have so much to contribute and newly graduated teachers can bring fresh ideas and perspectives.
Just go for it: Return and Earn is the best, easiest way to fundraise for a high school. Don’t be afraid to just start something and see what happens!
Challenges from COVID have taught us a great deal, particularly around the ability of nature to encourage. For example, we hold classes outside more often, as well as meetings with parents.
Benefits beyond the bottom line
While the cost savings and significant fundraising opportunities of their various sustainability programs are clear, it is the benefits beyond the bottom line that are the true motivators for Dapto High School. Other outcomes noted by staff include:
- Significant litter reduction on school grounds: Since the introduction of Return and Earn in 2018, litter has nearly halved. The funds raised by Return and Earn (approximately $200 per fortnight) are used to fund other sustainability initiatives , including 4 high-efficiency air conditioning units and 5 water bubblers. This positively reinforces the value of recycling for students and has led to greater use of the bins.
- Growth in Green Team participation: More and more students are motivated and excited to be doing the right thing and getting involved. They see the improvement in container separation and success of fundraising.
- Social benefits for Green Team members: Friendships across stages and classes have been formed. Students who become isolated at lunch have found a place and a community to belong to.
- Student growth: One of our students spoke at the 2018 Climate Strike in Sydney, partially inspired by her support and learning at school.
- Curriculum links: As part of the Year 7 Place and Liveability HSIE topic, every Year 7 student get the opportunity to work with the Green Team on the Return and Earn process as part of their lessons. Our English and HSIE faculties collaborate on this project. Ultimately, every student in the school will have helped with the collection and sorting process at least once during their time here.
Working with our community
We have a very supportive whole-of-school community. The P&C and the green team have been pivotal in the implementation of the Return and Earn program and still are key to ongoing running of the program.
Every Friday afternoon, the green team (under the supervision of David Bateman) empty, sort and bag the contents of the 17 blue Return and Earn containers we have around the school. P&C volunteers take on average 10-15 large bags each week to the local automated depot in Unanderra (about 10 kms away). Then the bags are tipped in the machine and automatically sorted. The school gets paid via PayPal straight away.
Our staff helped the green team educate the school community about which containers were eligible for collection. At the start of the project, around 120 containers were found in the (non-recycling) garbage. Within a year this had dropped by 75%.
Principal, Andrew Fitzsimons credits the green team for leading the school’s sustainability initiatives.
These students that help us, they come from boys and girls from Year 7 to Year 12. They are linked through their passion for sustainability, and it links us to parents and the community. So sustainability, apart from being good for the globe, is good for community.