Holy Family Junior School is a junior primary school in Ennis, Co. Clare. It has 180 students, 18 teachers and seven Special Needs Assistants. They were awarded their Green Flag for Biodiversity in May 2017.
Step 1: Committee
The Green-Schools Committee consists of one student from every classroom. That means that the Committee is made up of three students from junior infants, three from senior infants and three students from first class. The school also has a Deaf Unit and a Speech and Language Unit and these classes are also represented on the Committee. There are also three teachers, the school principal and the caretaker on the Committee, bringing the membership number to 16. They have a formal Committee meeting once a term but the Green-Schools Coordinator also meets with the other members on a more regular basis.
Step 2: Environmental Review
Before getting to work on the Biodiversity Theme and making changes and improvements to the school environment, the Green-Schools Committee carried out the three “Essential Actions” for the Environmental Review, namely:
- The Biodiversity Awareness Survey.
- The initial Habitat Map of the School and
- Revisited previous themes (i.e. Litter & Waste, Energy, Water and Travel) to identify links between them and the Biodiversity theme.
The Committee also ensured that their previous themes did not get ignored, with a weekly wheelie bin rota being drawn up including for waste going to landfill, recycling and organic waste. In order to develop a clearer picture of what work needed to be undertaken on the school grounds the Committee investigated the grass cutting and other work that had taken place during the summer months to see what had been done and where they should start. They discovered that:
- Bulbs that had been growing over the summer had been planted in areas where there is a lot of student traffic and got trampled.
- No one knew the species of trees that were found in the school grounds.
- They did not have a wildflower area.
- While they had a large garden area with numerous different plant species, they identified that they were not using the area to its full potential for promoting and supporting a really high level of biodiversity.
Image 1: Holy Family Junior School Map 1 (before any action had been taken) – essential for the Environmental Review
Step 3: Action Plan
After recognising the above points, the Committee got to work, looking at what they could do to actively involve all of the students in the Biodiversity theme. They started by completing four of the recommended actions:
- Investigating the importance of Biodiversity.
- Investigating major threats to biodiversity locally/nationally/internationally.
- Investigating practical ways in which they could help conserve it.
- Investigating the local area and identifying any protected sites such as SACS/SPAS/NHAS or National Parks and find out why they are protected.
They achieved these goals by developing a wide range of actions and started working on them. Along with surveying the students to see what the level of knowledge on biodiversity was like, they:
- Informed the parents that the school would be working on the Biodiversity theme.
- Updated the Green-Schools notice board to reflect the new theme and so that the previous four themes were revisited.
- Identified areas of high biodiversity already in the school grounds.
- Developed an understanding of the terminology of biodiversity among all students.
- Planed spring bulbs such as daffodils and tulips, as well as snowdrops, hyacinths and buddleia.
- Installed signs where new planting had occurred to reduce trampling.
- Encouraged all classes to set up Nature Tables in their classroom
- Installed and maintained bird feeders around the bird table.
- Installed bird boxes to promote bird nesting on the school grounds.
- Native tree planting and identification.
- Designated an area of the garden for mini-beasts, creating a bug hotel and investigating different habitats of mini-beasts.
- Designed a leaf pile house.
- Created a wild flower garden to promote pollinators.
- Linked in poetry with the theme of biodiversity.
- Created a Nature Trail around the school grounds.
- Investigated different threats to biodiversity.
- Linked the food that they were eating with biodiversity.
- Linked all previous themes to biodiversity.
A first year teacher, Ms. Diane Hennessy, went on to give an excellent presentation on how the Green-Schools programme is implemented in her school to teachers from various European countries at the local Education Centre in Ennis.
Step 4: Monitoring and Evaluation
- Repeated Awareness Survey
- Including a short repeat survey at the end of Year 1 to examine the level of awareness in the first year students before they moved to the senior school. This survey found that the first year students had increased their awareness of biodiversity form 23% to 94% by the end of Year 1.
- Repeated Habitat Map survey
- Monitored and evaluated progress in the new areas of biodiversity
- The Committee created a timeline of all actions taken over the time and this is displayed at the reception area.
- All students take regular walks around the school grounds recording bird species and discuss the plants, mini-beasts and other aspects of the garden.
Figure 1: Students’ Biodiversity Awareness Results – from before (during the Environmental Review) and after actions were taken to improve awareness and biodiversity levels in the school.
Image 2: Holy Family Junior School Habitat Map 2 (after action was taken) – essential for The Monitoring and Evaluation step.
The Committee ensured that all of the previous themes were maintained as the understood that the litter on the ground, the energy and water saved and the reduced CO2 emissions, all greatly benefit biodiversity. Examples of just some of their ongoing work on these themes are listed below:
Litter and waste
- Ensure waste is put into the correct bin.
- Students follow the tidy classroom checklist with the tidiest classroom award once a week.
- Students are encouraged to use reusable lunchboxes and water bottles.
- Recycling materials for biodiversity such as painting and planting in old tyres.
- The code for the Litter & Waste Theme is still displayed for all to see
- An appointed Energy Sheriff ensures all the lights are turned off when the classroom is not in use.
- The code for the Energy Theme is still displayed for all to see.
- Rainwater collected in old plastic containers and a 5 gallon drum for watering plants.
- Ensure all taps are turned off fully.
- The code for the Water Theme is still displayed for all to see
- Students are encouraged to take part in Walk on Wednesday.
- The golden boot award is used for the best class.
- Participation in other initiatives such as scoot to school.
- The code for the Travel Theme is still displayed for all to see.
Step 5: Curriculum Work
|Subject||Environmental Issue Covered|
|Art||Drawing bulbs; Leaf/bark rubbings; Mapping; Nature displays|
|SESE||Species studied: Fox, spider, penguin, polar bear, honey bee, butterfly, wild flowers, mini-beasts.
Nature walk / How plants drink? / Planting bulbs / Comparing animals from hot and cold countries / Observational skills while watching wildlife and planting trees over four seasons / Animal homes and habitats.
Finding water/Is it waterproof?
Human environments – Comparing communities in other countries
|Literacy and Communication||Vocabulary related to biodiversity, recycling, nature, energy and water.
Oral and written reports on endangered species.
Reading about biodiversity, nature and wildlife and discussing these themes.
Effect of weather on the environment / Mini-beast reports
|Gaeilge||Focloir – An Gairdin/An Crann
Rannta- An Seilide/ Is crann laider me/Froganna
|SPHE||My School Community – development of responsibility for our garden through working on it.|
|Music||Mini-beast song / Composition and performance of “Walk to School”|
Step 6: Informing and Involving
The school set up a Biodiversity Action Time, where all of the students get a chance to be actively involved in the school garden. This time takes place on Fridays at 11:15 AM. During this time the students observe the nature around them and pick up any litter. The school took a biodiversity walk around the school each week in year two and the Green-Schools Coordinator sends regular emails to inform other teachers and students of what work is happening on the theme. The school had a visit from Leif Barry who delivered talks on biodiversity to the different classes.
Everyone in the school is kept informed about the Biodiversity theme through a number of ways:
- Green-Schools Notice Board.
- Green-Schools Time Line.
- Monthly Newsletters.
- Notices on classroom doors and windows.
- At assembly on Mondays.
- Photographs of Activities around the school.
- Classroom displays.
- Posters around school.
- Classroom visits by children to advertise an event or show and tell an item linked to biodiversity.
- Linking with the Parish Office for community involvement.
- News article on bug hotel in the Clare Champion paper.
- Invitation from the Clare Garden Festival for the school to take part in their biodiversity competition.
Step 7: Green Code
The green code was written by students from Room 4 and Room 5. It is displayed at reception and in the school corridor.
Plants and animals,
Big and small,
Let’s work together to save them all,
Trees and plants give us air,
Let’s show them that we care
Awareness is happening very naturally and holistically – it’s not a specific time on the timetable but rather a constant.
Overall our school love working on Biodiversity. The children loved it and really enjoyed the hands on approach and certainly learned a lot. The adults involved worked with great enthusiasm. Thanks to everybody for their input in making this so successful. It is lovely to see the ongoing projects develop. Well done to all.