Emu Plains Public School
About our school
Emu Plains Public School is located at the foot of the Blue Mountains and is the second oldest school west of the Nepean River, having served its local community for over 140 years. It currently serves a well-established Western Sydney suburban community with several generations of families having attended the school. Our current enrolment is 429 students.
Our journey to sustainability
Our students noted that there was a lot of rubbish in the playground area and our school is near the Nepean River. They were concerned that their waste would end up in the waterways and eventually contribute to the massive garbage patches in our oceans.
Students formed a green team made up of environmentally conscious students. Their peers elected these students to represent their class at regular sustainability meetings which occur once a week during lunchtime. The team also includes dedicated teachers.
The green team led school projects to reduce, reuse and recycle, with the main objective to stop waste entering Nepean River. Ultimately, they want to reduce waste overall.
The students participated in project-based learning lessons and activities, which included:
- waste audits
- developing a series of strategies to improve waste collection and sorting
- designing and building a sensory garden from recycled materials
- creating art from rubbish.
These are some of the activities implemented so far:
- Collection of bread bags and tags as part of the Wonder Recycling Rewards Program.
- Participation in the Return and Earn program to recycle and earn money. This included the provision of bins clearly labelled to make recycling easier.
- Purchase and usage of compost bins to collect food scraps.
- Students created worm farms and use the collected compost to feed the worms and it will also be used to improve the overall health of the school vegetable garden.
- Relocation of the school vegetable garden to a larger, more accessible area for the whole school.
- Creation of a school sensory garden using recycled materials.
- Creation of artworks using the school’s waste in a 'waste to art’ show with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch as our theme.
How we did it
The green team implemented a series of initial project-based learning lessons, which introduced students to the importance of reducing, reusing, and recycling during class time.
- K-2 students explored the meaning of an environment and went for a walk around the school to discover the problem.
- Year 3-4 students learned how they could monitor and reduce their impact on the environment.
- Year 5-6 students explored how they could reduce their impact on the environment and be a voice of change.
Staff on the team researched sustainable practices and made links with other local schools to discuss sustainability issues. This helped us become involved in recycling projects like the Wonder Recycling Rewards Program and the Return and Earn scheme.
The green team lead teacher also worked alongside school staff to develop:
- the sensory garden
- a vegetable garden
- composting areas.
Benefits beyond the bottom line
Students have now been given a voice and the responsibility to take care of their environment. They have the chance to educate their parents and school community.
Teachers and staff had professional development on the importance of project-based learning and how this inspires students to take control of their own learning. Staff are mindful of how much photocopying/laminating they do and are working towards reducing their waste overall.
We have planted many trees and we are constantly thinking of ways to improve our school environment. We are looking at creating outdoor, environmental learning spaces to encourage students, staff, and the community to become sustainable citizens. We hope to attract more insects, birds and wildlife to the school grounds in the future.
Currently, we are finishing off the sensory garden and vegetable garden areas including an Aboriginal garden. We want to implement a kitchen garden program that educates students about growing food and the importance of nutrition. We also want to develop a flower garden and increase planting around the school. We hope to include native beehives and create a bee highway in the years to come.
We want to improve our sensory garden ‘teepee’ by adding recycled bottles for its walls and have plants growing on the sides
Part of our snake path in the garden leads through a tunnel, which will have vines growing over it. All these ideas have come from our students who have helped design the sensory garden.
Other waste initiatives we would like to introduce in future projects are:
- unwrapped lunches to encourage our students and their families to think of environmentally friendly ways to pack lunches
- creating a gardening club
- ongoing waste audits
- embedding sustainability subjects into the school curriculum
- involving the community in all future initiatives to create a strong connection and inspire change, as well as building on our connections with other schools in the area.
What our students and teachers say
I like being chosen for the green team because I can make a difference to the world and learn how to reuse rubbish instead of chucking it in the bin. We began to recycle bread bags and tags and bottles for Return and Earn. We also started talking about composting. I would like us to plant more trees to attract birds, worms, and bees to our school gardens. Other schools should do something like this to make a difference in the world because trees help us breathe.
Student involved in the initiative: Year 2 Green Team representative
I can see the students taking pride in their surroundings. Conversation was generated around the difference between ‘reuse’ and ‘recycle’ around the art show. This led into discussions at other times as well. Participating in an observation walk made the problems real to the students. Other schools should consider doing something similar as responsibility for environmental issues needs to begin at an early age. If the concepts are cemented now, it can influence our future leaders.
Teacher - Ruth, Kindergarten teacher