In 1992 a group of councillors from Hamilton returned from The Earth Summit in Rio De Janiero with the aim of developing education for sustainability. With the help of Waikato University, a pilot eco-schools programme developed into Enviroschools. The incorporation of indigenous Māori perspectives was critical. Programme developers worked with Te Mauri Tau, based in Raglan, from the onset. The Toimata Foundation was established in 2015 and supports both Enviroschools and Te Aho Tuu Roa.
Enviroschools is now a global movement, inspiring others.
I have noticed throughout our kindergarten’s Enviroschool journey, that the process encourages teachers to include children’s voices and to work toward a whole-school- approach. In 2017, Sisson & Lash highlighted the importance of the children’s space being their domain, essentially empowering children to witness their activity transforming the landscape. Social science would name this ‘consciousness raising’, or ‘collective consciousness’.
I spoke with Anna Cunningham, an Enviroschools facilitator, “One of the core guiding principles is student empowerment. How do we create change makers? If students are getting that empowerment when they are young, they are going to be the change in the workplace”. In my opinion, the Enviroschools kaupapa has the potential to promote a Value- Belief-Norm-Theory, that is, that new ways of being become the norm.
Anna works across 25 schools in Waikato, Raglan Area School being one of them. She said Enviroschools really works when it is woven into the curriculum, when it is simply how a school can BE. However, she also noted that teachers are stretched, and if the environment is seen as an ‘extra’ then it is easy to forget about it. Instead, she urges that Enviroschools is most effective when it is everyone’s job, addressing social sustainability, cultural sustainability and ultimately economic sustainability, “It’s not just about the biophysical environment, it is about connection to nature, connection to community”.
Whaea Maddie at Raglan Kindergarten echoes the importance of community. She spoke with me about Raglan’s embedded organic lifestyle, Xtreme Zero Waste being a huge influence, as well as Liz and Rick’s permaculture farm. Enviroschools encourages Early Childhood Education participation, and the Toimata Foundation has designed resources specifically geared up for ECE. The Raglan Kindergarten have been working on their Enviro programme since 2013, firstly achieving a Bronze Award, followed by a Silver, and in 2019 were awarded the Green-Gold Award.
One project that stands out for Maddie is the building of an adobe wall in the kindergarten grounds. She described the process of working with community members Guy and Paul and talking with tamariki. Maddie described the process of understanding the ground we live on, the pepeha, the maunga, when building the clay wall, “It was teaching us, we were all the ako. It might corrode again, but it becomes a conversation”. For Maddie, Enviroschools inspires tamariki to take care of things, show manaakitanga and to respect sustainability. She shared her feeling of privilege to be part of a journey that strengthens connections within the community and to gain a deeper understanding of what our community does.
Dr Asah in 2017 announced that, “Children’s self-exposure to nature was the strongest predictor of a number of aspects of adulthood environmental citizenship”. Raglan residents are spoilt with access to nature, landscapes, experiences. We are also embraced by a community with a strong Enviro-consciousness, so, what’s next for Enviroschools in Raglan?
Anna shared that teachers will be given the opportunity to visit Xtreme Zero waste and hear from Plastic Free Raglan with the intention of discussing waste management streams. Enviroschools is always evolving and currently there are big discussions about climate change. Schools are empowering students to redesign waste systems, recycling is at the end of the line, but how can we reduce waste.