Salesians Secondary school is a mixed secondary school in Limerick with 713 students and 60 staff members. Having undertaken the biodiversity theme in 2017 Salesians were awarded the Green-Schools Biodiversity flag in May 2019.
There are seven crucial steps to compete before being awarded a Green Flag. Here is how Salesians went about the process.
Step 1: Green-Schools Committee
Firstly, a Green-Schools Committee was set up. The committee is made up of a mixture of students and staff members. There are four first year students, four second year students and six sixth year students. It also includes three teachers and two caretakers. Each year the committee advertise for new members at the school’s extra- curricular fair and in the school newsletter. New members are invited to join, and members may stay on the committee throughout their school career. The committee has divided up roles which include Chairperson, Vice Chairperson, PRO, Treasurer, Vice-Treasurer and members.
The committee meets weekly to organise Green-Schools activities and to direct the school through the process of achieving the Green-Schools Biodiversity Flag.
Step 2: Environmental Review
The first step for the committee was assessing the current situation in the school regarding students’ knowledge of biodiversity and what areas of the school had existing areas of biodiversity or the potential to create more. To get started they:
- Carried out an awareness survey to find out what students already knew about biodiversity. The transition year students in the school helped to carry these out with the other classes.
- Created a habitat map of the school and its grounds which showed the different areas of habitats within the school and identified any plants they could grow within those areas.
- They also checked back in with the four previous themes the school had achieved Green Flags for (Litter and Waste, Energy, Water and Travel) to see if there were any areas the Biodiversity theme would overlap and link in.
Step 3: Action Plan
Based on what they had learned from the environmental review the committee created an action plan to improve biodiversity and knowledge of it within the school. This listed the actions they would take, who would be responsible for carrying it out and the timeframe it would be completed in. Different classes and groups in the school undertook several practical improvements in the school garden.
- The art and woodwork classes were involved in designing and creating two large planting areas made from old tyres.
- A group of students with ASD were involved in working with the herb gardens, planting vegetables and creating new planters.
- Overall the school created eight new planters. They also planted 20 trees/shrubs. To help manage the garden sustainably the school created two compost heaps.
- They also created four log piles to encourage insects, small animals and hibernating animals around the school grounds.
The school held a Day of Action which got lot of different classes involved. One of the teachers led planting workshops for groups of first year students and there was a biodiversity orienteering activity organised partly by the transition year students.
The school also invited several nature experts in to provide workshops to the students to teach them about and to get them more engaged with biodiversity. This included taking part in the LEAF (Learning About Forests) programme which the students found very hands-on and helpful in identifying habitats and species in their school grounds.
Step 4: Monitoring and Evaluation
The committee conducted the biodiversity awareness survey at the beginning and at the end of the two-year process to chart the progress and see how much students in the school had learned about biodiversity.
They found there was a large increase in the students who were able to correctly answer questions regarding biodiversity at the end of the two-year cycle – see chart on right.
The school noticed an increase in certain animals in the school grounds including butterflies and robins.
They also completed a second habitat map to note where changes and improvements had been made to the school grounds.
The committee also continued to monitor the changes put into place for the previous four themes including:
- Using raffle tickets to encourage the correct use of recycling bins
- Upgrading signs in classrooms encouraging students and staff to turn off lights, projectors etc when not in use.
- Installing a second water fountain to encourage the refilling of water bottles instead of buying bottled water.
- Placing bike racks in front of reception for the safety of parked bicycles to encourage students and staff to cycle to school.
Step 5: Curriculum Work
During the process of undergoing work towards the Biodiversity Green Flag the school found that the activities involved fit in with many parts of the curriculum including:
- Woodwork: Making planters for the garden
- Art: Designing and creating items for the garden
- Biology: Identifying different species of plants and animals, learning about different habitats and ecosystems
Step 6: Involving and Informing
The committee used a variety of methods to keep everyone in the school and the wider community up to date on the Green-Schools biodiversity activities.
- There was a regularly updated Green-Schools notice board.
- They also had updates in “Tutor News”, a weekly bulletin for students, staff and parents which was emailed out to everyone.
- Pictures of Green-Schools news was featured on the television screens in the school’s central area.
- Staff were kept updated during staff meetings.
- News and activities were featured on the school website and Facebook page.
- Some details of events and news about Green- Schools activities were also sent to the local press.
Step 7: Green Code
Salesians kept it short and sweet with their Biodiversity Green Code:
Little differences make a big difference