The Green Journey
‘Ní neart go cur le chéile’ is a much-used Irish cliché especially in the field of education, but is an essential motto for any successful whole-school project. As with any new concept, there needs to be ‘dreamers and doers’, idealists and realists, passionate and well-grounded people on board. A good eclectic mix seems to be the recipe for success. It is essential that the leader of the organisation will open the floodgates to allow ideas and energy to flow and afford support for and interest in the project along the way. A framework is also necessary within which to work giving structure and direction to the process. Manageable, measurable goals and targets are crucial to any project as is the celebration of its success.
The Green School Programme is a very well structured one involving seven steps. An Taisce’s Educational Unit have teamed up with local authorities and provide support for schools involved. The programme employs a thematic approach, which works extremely well in the educational context lending itself to a wide variety of opportunities for integration. Whether the theme is Waste Management, Water, Energy or Travel, the cross-curricular links are limitless for all class levels. The Green School Website is an invaluable resource for teachers and the benefits of participating in the Green School programme extend far beyond the school walls. (www.greenschoolsireland.org/)
When St Mary’s set out on their Green journey almost ten years ago, Ireland was thriving and not many people wanted to know about being eco-friendly or economical. Environmentalists and tree-huggers were viewed as alternative! St Mary’s, nevertheless, ploughed ahead with its Green School Campaign and has made remarkable success over the years. In 2004 St Mary’s established its first Adult and Pupil Green Committees. Green areas were set up in each classroom and Gardaí Glasa, Water Watchers and Energy Squads were appointed. Pledges were composed, learned and recited regularly. Personnel from An Taisce visited us faithfully and offered us much-welcomed advice and encouragement. Liaising with both our local Environmental officer and Tidy Towns facilitator was a vital move as both have afforded us great support and even some funding through competitions and prizes for Green initiatives over the years. The teacher who is the Green Schools Coordinator acts as the ‘glue’ that keeps all the pieces together and is responsible for submitting a report documenting the Green actions taken over the year. Pupils, their families and staff are kept informed of Green developments or upcoming events through assemblies, staff meetings, imlitreacha and Green notice boards
Every day is a Green day at St Mary’s. We have an extensive Green Area (An Ceantar Glas) right in the heart of our school, which houses containers for various recycled materials and where children can be spotted daily adding their recyclables. At the back of the premises we have a compost heap that we are cultivating for our garden in anticipation of our upcoming theme. In 2011 the school installed three 10,000-litre rainwater tanks and now over 50% of our water comes from rainwater. Our bills have been reduced from €6,000 to €3,000 per annum. Each classroom is fitted with toilet eco-flush buttons, minimising the water flushed every day. Classrooms have sensor-operated (PIRs) lighting, so that lights switch off automatically when there’s no activity in the room. To address classroom waste, each classroom operates a ‘bin system’ whereby dry waste is recycled and organic waste is composted. All of our school newsletters are sent electronically thus cutting down dramatically on paper and ink waste.
Like many Irish schools, WOW (Walking on Wednesday) and COW (Cycling on Wednesday) have become part of the school calendar. Teachers dutifully meet up with either cyclists or walkers every Wednesday and escort them safely to school. This initiative has significantly reduced traffic congestion around the school. Some pupils have been very creative and even roller-blade, scoot or flicker to school!
Twice a year we hold our Siopa Glas where old toys and books are sold. The proceeds have funded solar panels in the African schools, Group Scolaire Ngurugunzu (Rwanda) and Linda Compound School (Zambia) with which we have links. One Green project funding another! These initiatives link in with our newest Green Flag theme, Global Citizenship.
St Mary’s progressed through the various themes, action plans and challenges over the years and has been awarded six Green Flags. Acquiring the Green Homes flag was by far the most challenging as it involved enlisting the help of householders and hoping that by revisiting the four main themes at school (Waste, Energy, Water and Travel) they would embrace a new eco-friendly way of living at home. A recent survey of our householders revealed that a significant majority has made changes since embarking upon the Green Homes Campaign. We have many international families in our school which will help us learn lots about litter and waste management around the globe as part of our Global Citizenship awareness.
Although a lot of thought and hard work has gone into the Green Schools campaign, we also see the fun side of being green and have had some good laughs along the way. A few Septembers ago, to commemorate the death of the Duke of Wellington who has ties with our heritage town, hundreds of children and adults donned Wellingtons and walked to school one morning. Dressing up and even stripping off to make a Green statement is not unusual for St Mary’s! Last year at the St Patrick’s Day parade, Mrs Brown made a dramatic conversion to Mrs Green in front of the dignitaries at the Town Hall when she removed her brown layers and slipped into something green! It was a very expressive message to the people of Trim!
Our six Green Flags fly proudly over our school reminding us of what we have achieved to date but also calling us to be mindful of our Green reputation and has culminated in our achieving the overall National 2013 Green Award for Green Schools/Colleges. Being green is a way of life for our pupils and their families. They have a deep appreciation of the need to protect our environment and conserve our natural resources. It must be a collaborative effort that transcends the school environs. Together we can make a difference by ‘thinking globally and acting locally’. Níl ‘bratach’ go cur le chéile!