For Blair Athol Primary School in South Australia, keeping sustainability as a core value across all subjects and year levels has been a key priority since its inception 12 years ago. The school incorporates this into the students’ learning in a plethora of ways, running a flourishing kitchen garden program supported by the wider community, local council and the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation’s Kitchen Garden Program.

For schools, teaching children sustainable practices in a fun and engaging way is a top priority, especially when this can be woven into the wider community’s long-term goals.

Blair Athol Primary School is located in the City of Port Adelaide Enfield in the inner north and north-western suburbs of Adelaide, and features a rain garden, food waste art and exemplary recycling initiatives.

The school’s environmental leadership is a perfect fit with the local Council’s sustainability goals, which form part of its Living Environment Program.

These goals are highlighted in the Council’s Annual Business Plan 2022-23, which states that Council will continue to accelerate its response to climate change and environmental sustainability priorities – including supporting businesses and community action through the Greening Our City initiative, the Green Business Incentive Scheme and the Community Environment Program.

The school’s garden is powered through the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation’s Kitchen Garden Program, which works with local governments and schools to deliver food education for young people.

Sustainability on a community level

City of Port Adelaide Enfield Waste Management Leader, Stephen Payne, said Council has a unique variety of natural environments, and the protection of these environments is crucial for health, economic and social wellbeing.

“We recognise the importance of providing children with an opportunity to learn about sustainability practices and get involved in local environmental projects and initiatives,” Mr Payne said.

“It has been fantastic to see the students at Blair Athol Primary School connect with the living environment and develop environmentally responsible habits.”

The school and Council have collaborated closely to deliver the kitchen garden and teach the youngest members of the community about sustainability and where their food comes from.

Blair Athol Primary School’s Garden Specialist, Thomas Hayward, describes the school’s approach to sustainability as ‘student-strengthened’, and although the school itself is only 12 years old, a focus on the environment has always been central to its ethos.

“More and more so recently we’ve included sustainability as a subject,” Mr Hayward said.

“Which has really helped us reach the whole school, as opposed to smaller groups that we used to work with.”

A Winter Solstice event held in early 2022 managed to connect students, the broader community, and local and State Government representatives.

It also celebrated the school’s participation in the National Park City initiative, run by state body Green Adelaide, which according to Mr Hayward looks at “how the community strengthens through nature”.

“Many parents and staff came out, stayed after school and chatted,” Mr Hayward said.

“Students were touring their parents around, exhibiting lots of the work they’ve been doing in the sustainability sessions, and in the garden. Students and staff had made soup and bread, and there was lots going on.”

Students working in the garden. Image: Blair Athol Primary School.

Connecting wider goals to the program

Local Councillor Carol Martin OAM is also heavily involved with the project, with her grandchild attending the school.

Beyond the expected enthusiasm of a grandparent, the program’s alignment with Council goals has provided additional motivation for Cr Martin to get involved.

“There is strong alignment between the Kitchen Garden Program and Council’s sustainability goals. Council’s Living Environment Program is focused on accelerating climate change and environmental action, and supporting community led action that helps reduce our environmental footprint,” Cr Martin said.

“It is so important that we ensure this action has a positive outcome for the environment and the community. They go hand in hand.

“Our relationship with our food, where it comes from, how to grow it sustainably, how to make healthy choices and how to share our food are all part of creating sustainable communities.”

Cr Martin said that, as part of the Living Environment Program and in partnership with Green Adelaide, Council has funded a series of Grow Local workshops throughout the city, with the most recent one held in October 2022 at the Parks Library as part of the 2022 Nature Festival.

Blair Athol Primary School Senior Leader: Innovative Pedagogies, Sam Anderson, said, “Carol is really visible here in our school. Most people know who she is, meaning she’ll always stop and have a chat. But anything we do around sustainability, whether it’s learning or an event, she really gets behind – which is fantastic.

“I think that’s really powerful for the community to see, knowing that someone who represents them at that level is really on the ground in terms of what’s happening in schools.”

Teaching the community’s bright young minds

Collaborating with Council not only helps the partnership to reach community sustainability goals, but also gives students real-life insight into how local government works – with the school’s student leaders planning a visit to learn more about how Council serves the community.

The council’s community waste officer has also kept students informed about local waste programs, including what they can do at home and in their kitchen garden program.

“If you ask students ‘what does the council do?’, they’d say things like, ‘they take the bins away’ or ‘they take your rubbish away’,” Mr Hayward said.

“Interactions with local government are really beneficial.”

Mr Payne said Council has been “so grateful for the opportunity to deliver waste management information to the students at Blair Athol Primary”.

“These children are now among our best advocates for recycling, and help us deliver the recycling message beyond the classroom to their families and communities.”

Mr Payne said that as Council residents of the future, it has been encouraging to see the children’s genuine commitment to effective recycling practices.

Building relationships with the wider community also strengthens feelings of self-worth and social belonging.

“A lot of our students really love contact with outside people. They’re very proud of our school,” Mr Hayward said.

Mr Hayward also said that having external visitors “has been quite powerful for students in their learning and sense of pride, which I think is a really important thing for their wellbeing”.

This connection is strengthened by the students’ level of engagement with their onsite rain garden.

“Our rain garden project has been fantastic because it’s been a huge focus for our kids to build that sense of ownership and belonging,” Mr Anderson said.

“They have been involved in every aspect – from the planning, to the building and gardening. In terms of their involvement day-to-day, there’s a genuine connection to that space.”

By helping in the rain garden students learn about a plethora of topics. Image: Blair Athol Primary School.

Feedback from parents

The parents are also enthusiastic about the level of student participation in these projects.

“They just love a lot of the initiatives that are happening because they can see that their children are actively involved in it, learning a lot from it, coming home and talking about the things that they’ve been doing and that’s part of our bigger goal,” Mr Anderson said.

The practical, hands-on nature of kitchen garden lessons also provides opportunities to explore other areas of the curriculum, including sustainability and science.

“We use the sustainability sessions each week as a bit of a vehicle too,” Mr Anderson said.

“They’ve been involved in testing the water’s pH levels, getting an understanding of where it goes when it leaves the rain garden.

“In terms of their understanding of the connections between their behaviour and the impact on the environment, they are connected to the rain garden so they’re very protective and they want to see that space flourish.

“They’ve seen it change from a swamp to a kind of landscape area.”

Embracing diversity

Fostering custodial responsibility towards the environment encourages a deeper understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives, with educators emphasising the importance of looking after the land.

“We bring the idea that if we look after the land, the lands are going to look after us,” Mr Anderson said.

The school has around 43 different language backgrounds, making it one of the most diverse schools in South Australia.

“For our students to go home and articulate what they have learned to their parents, maybe in another language, is powerful, and really valuable for us as well,” Mr Anderson said.

“It might be around composting or different things, but you know they’ll go home and talk about what they’re doing in the rain garden.”

This connection to the broader community proved especially valuable during the pandemic.

“We had some students assisting with translating a lot of the COVID-19 information that was coming out,” Mr Hayward said.

“Not all the languages were covered in the information that was sent out, so we had some students assisting by translating these big bodies of really important text, and turning that into letters that would go out to families.”

Mr Anderson is excited to see students evolving into effective sustainability advocates within their families and broader communities – which also ties back to communicating council initiatives.

Young, budding sustainability activists

“What our kids are amazing at is sharing their learning at home,” Mr Anderson said.

“If a parent isn’t reading materials from the council, or doesn’t have the level of English, they’re being informed by their kids.

“For some parents that’s the only avenue they’ve got for what’s happening at school.”

Blair Athol Primary School is a prime example of how community gardens can bring people together and educate communities about the natural environment. It’s a practical way for councils and community health organisations to meet sustainability targets, while supporting schools and services to nurture the social and academic needs of young people.

“We are all part of a movement of communities that are taking action for the better, and Blair Athol Primary School is part of that wonderful movement,” Cr Martin said.

Find out more about the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program at www.kitchengardenfoundation.org.au

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