East Hills Girls Technology High School
About our school
East Hills Girls Technology High School has been providing quality education for girls for over 65 years. The school, established in 1953, is located between the suburbs of Panania and East Hills. Often referred to as ‘the school among the trees’, our school is situated on 5.5 hectares in a landscaped natural bushland setting, which is continually growing by plantings of other trees and shrubs.
Since 2017 we have been fortunate to work with the community organisation, Panania Free Rangers. Our environment committee lunch meetings have become a 2-hour sport group. This has enabled more students to enjoy horticulture and follow food production from soil improvement to harvesting, and then onto meal preparation and herb-scented products.
Our journey to sustainability
The Cumberland project was established with the objective of regenerating the bushland in the front of the school. It is a remnant of the critically endangered Shale/Sandstone Transition Woodland of the Cumberland Plain, which used to cover the whole of Western Sydney. We looked to the Cumberland Plain Woodland at Mount Annan as a model for our school project. These are the project's specific goals:
- Provide weekly recreational gardening sessions as an alternative to sport, and as wellbeing therapy.
- Enable students to gain experience in social care farming.
- Enable students to undertake bush regeneration and cultural care for country.
We applied for a Sustainable Schools Grant which gives schools the opportunity to develop innovative hands-on projects that help students learn about environmentally sustainable practices and take real steps to enhance the sustainability of their school environment.
The grant program has delivered more than 100 projects focused specifically on biodiversity, bush regeneration and garden projects resulting in over 1,000 trees planted in Greater Sydney to date.
How we did it
This project required specialty knowledge, so we reached out to various members of the community within our school, the department and our local community to help with planning and implementation.
Bankstown Bushland Society provided expert advice by identifying the 2 species of tree dominating the front school yard. Their recommendation was to ‘stop mowing’ and conduct some ‘cool burning.’ This has enabled the germination of native grasses, herbaceous ground covers and a few new trees to grow and flourish.
As part of National Tree Day, we purchased some seedlings from a local native nursery and Canterbury Bankstown Council donated seedlings which we planted to build an under-storey to increase the biodiversity of plants and improve the habitat for animals.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) students were invited to join our regular green group. Species of Indigenous significance were planted to form the bush tucker trail, connecting to the adjacent primary school and the boys' high school across the road.
The pumps on our rainwater tanks were repaired so that the recycled water taps now work. Additional pipes and taps were installed to provide a reliable water supply to irrigate the seedlings and provide water for animals on hot days. This has saved the school 133kLs of water since completion.
After the planning stage, we promoted the project to the school teaching community which led to teachers sharing their knowledge and bringing in plants to add to our woodland. Check out the project presentation we used.
Benefits beyond the bottom line
Since the woodland in front of the school has been recognised by the school community and the department as being part of the critically endangered Cumberland Plain forest, it is more likely to be preserved.
The overall population of the 2 main tree species (ironbark and blue box) has increased, with younger trees starting to replace the older trees.
Planting out an under-storey of plants has increased the biodiversity of plant species, and in time will provide an additional habitat for animals.
The project supports the school’s wider goals improving the appearance of the school’s environment. The school’s executive teachers conducted a student survey to get this information.
Teachers of science, geography, commerce, technological and applied studies (TAS) and our ATSI coordinator use the woodland to put learning into context for the students:
- Stage 4 - Agricultural technology: Identify impact of Aboriginal land management, bush tucker influence and initiatives on contemporary diets.
- Stage 4 - Geography: How people can prevent and minimise effects of a bushfire.
- Year 12 - Science: Use historical examples to evaluate contribution of cultural observational knowledge and its relationship to science.
- Year 7 - Science: Habitats and interactions.
- Year 9 - Ecosystems: Each week in green group, students are shown aspects of planting and maintaining a permaculture garden and bush regeneration.
What we learned
The project was harder than we expected. Without the support of the community, it would not have happened. Juggling the project management aspects with a full-time teaching load is difficult and we didn’t have time to find and connect with specialists.
Working with the support of the Panania Free Rangers really helped us. They planned the grant application and made the connections in the community, such as:
- identifying plumbers and native plant nurseries
- liaising and inviting in Bankstown Bushland Society to identify species
- working with Council to obtain free plants and compost.
We found that other teachers with relevant expertise would come forward and help when we asked.
Suggestions to other schools undertaking similar projects
- Get the school community on board. Sustainability and Indigenous culture are a cross-curriculum focus.
- Pay your community helpers for their time and skills. Panania Free Rangers are registered with the department as general assistants.
- Involve an ATSI contact in your school and the Aboriginal community liaison officer, since they can provide a wealth of information and knowledge.
- Make sure all students are involved, well supervised and safe.
- Regularly update your risk assessment. Wielding a mattock is necessary but needs to be managed.
Working with the community
The project was carried out by our green group consisting of 24 students supported by teachers, the principal, the school business manager, the Aboriginal community liaison officer and the Panania Free Rangers, a community group of horticulturalists.
Who we worked with
Community groups such as:
- Indigrow Nursery Bush Habitat Restoration
- Bankstown Bushland Society
- Autism Community Network
Local businesses and organisations such as:
- Blue Ribbon Plumbing
- Bunya Native Nursery
- Canterbury Bankstown Council. We are very grateful for their contributions to help make our school woodland more sustainable, and a rich learning environment for our students.
What our students say
The highlight for me in green group is planting the flowers it was very fun to dig holes and plant flowers.
Year 7 student
Just want to say that it was a pleasure having me in green group this year and I really enjoyed it.
Year 7 student