Small school leads the way on sustainability

A focus on environmental sustainability is helping one school create a brighter future for its students and community. Luke Horton reports.

A male farmer with 3 students from Belltrees Public School in a shed testing soil samples. A male farmer with 3 students from Belltrees Public School in a shed testing soil samples.
Image: Transformed: Students at Belltrees Public School have worked with local landholders to learn more about sustainable farming practices.

A tiny rural school in the state’s Upper Hunter region with just three students is leading the charge on environmental sustainability.

Belltrees Public School recently received Green Flag accreditation for its efforts to entrench a culture of sustainable environmental practices.

Belltrees is just the fifth Australian school to receive the internationally recognised certification, which also acknowledged its environmental work with the community and curriculum built around sustainability.

Teaching principal Shane Roberts said the push towards a more environmentally conscious and sustainable school started in 2019.

“It was during a period of prolonged severe drought. The school and the community were hurting,” he said.

“The thought process behind becoming a more sustainable school was to prepare our kids for future environmental challenges.”

Through the efforts of students, staff and community members, the school has been transformed.

New solar panels, energy-efficient air-conditioners and LED lights have been installed, a 50-tree orchard has been planted and a series of ponds and embankments, which provide a sustainable water source and flood protection, have been constructed.

Belltrees Public has also partnered with landowners to learn more about sustainable farming practices and hosted several field days to educate other schools on environmental strategies.

“There’s a real focus on regenerative agriculture,” Mr Roberts said.

“We’ve introduced excursions where we visit farms to learn more about sustainable practices or invite farmers to our school to talk with students about what they’re doing on their properties.

“We’ve also invited other schools to visit and learn environmental strategies to take back to their own communities.”

Mr Roberts said a sustainable future was key to the survival of both the school and its community.

“In the past year we’ve received Green Flag accreditation, been recognised as the Sustainable Schools NSW School of the Year and we were also a finalist for the Banksia Foundation NSW Sustainability Awards,” he said.

“We feel extraordinarily honoured and proud of the achievements we have made.

“Our kids need to be ready for the climate conditions they’re likely to face in the next 10 to 15 years.”

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