Scoil Mhuire Junior School is a mixed primary school in Blakestown, Dublin with 300 students and 30 staff members. They had a great time carrying out the activities based around the biodiversity theme and as a result of their hard work were awarded the Green Flag for Biodiversity in May 2019. These are the steps they followed to reach that point.
Step 1: Green-Schools Committee
Scoil Mhuire’s Green-Schools committee is elected at the start of each school year. It is made up of two children from each of the first and second classes. Some children will sit on the committee for two years as they move from fist to second class. The committee also includes the Green- Schools Coordinator, the principal, the caretaker, a teacher from each year group, SNAs and a SEN team teacher. The committee meets once a month to coordinate the Green-Schools activities for the school.
Step 2: Environmental Review
To make improvements on the biodiversity around the school the committee first carried out an environmental review. This was a key step for the school to allow them to assess their current situation and discover what areas to focus on. The three stages to the review were:
- Biodiversity awareness survey. The questions in this survey assessed how much students and staff in the school already knew about biodiversity.
- Habitat map of the school and grounds. Students created a map of the school and its grounds and identified the different habitats around the school and any other key areas.
- Assessed where the four previously completed themes (Litter and Waste, Energy, Water and Travel) linked in with the Biodiversity theme.
Step 3: Action Plan
The committee created an action plan to get the whole school involved in various activities aimed at improving students# knowledge of biodiversity as well as monitoring and helping to increase the biodiversity in the school grounds.
The practical improvements of the grounds got off to a great start with the help of a large group of volunteers from a local college who assisted in putting in colourful fencing and benches, planting winter vegetables and created a new area for planting at the front of the school.
The committee and various classes were then able to take lots of practical action throughout the course of the two years to help biodiversity around the school. Here are some of the steps taken:
- Put up new birdfeeders and bird boxes
- Planted a willow arbor and a pear tree
- Each child in the school planted a bulb in springtime which they brought home to care for. They learnt about what plants need to grow.
- Created two large and three mini insect hotels and placed them in different locations around the school grounds.
- Made a log pile with twigs and sticks found in the school grounds for insects and hibernating animals.
- Planted and hung up four hanging baskets and planted and put out four window boxes.
- Created a wild area at one side of the school where they allowed grass and wildflowers to grow.
- Created three new compost piles which can be used to garden more sustainably.
The Green-Schools committee also ran activities aimed at increasing students’ knowledge of and interest in the biodiversity in their surroundings. These included:
- Inviting speakers into the school to share their knowledge about biodiversity. The school received visits from nature experts who spoke to the students about topics such as bees and biodiversity and sustainability.
- The classes went bird watching around the school using binoculars and bird charts. They noted the different birds they saw and what trees and bushes they seemed to be attracted to.
- The school had an action day where all the students got to take part in fun nature activities including nature scavenger hunts and creating natural art.
Step 4. Monitoring and Evaluation
- Following a visit from a bird group the school created bird worksheets so that the students could keep track of the birds visiting and living in the school grounds.
- A second habitat map was done in the second year of the programme to assess the changes that had been made to the school grounds. This showed new habitats and areas of biodiversity created.
- Different classes within the school would monitor and keep track of the types of insects found in the new insect homes as well as in different areas around the school grounds.
- The Green-Schools committee also led the school in checking to make sure that all work done on the previous themes were still in place and running well.
They assessed each class regularly on a variety of topics which included checking:
- Was the class recycling properly
- Separating the paper/plastics/compost
- Turning off taps and not allowing them to drip.
- Whether the lights were turned off when class have left the room.
- If interactive whiteboards were turned off when not in use.
Step 5: Curriculum Work
The school found that learning about biodiversity fit in with many subjects already present on the curriculum. These included:
Literacy and communication:
- Reading age appropriate books about plants and animals
- Learning new vocabulary related to biodiversity
- Learning how to communicate with and teach each other. They used assemblies as opportunities for students on the committee to pass on information they had learned to the rest of the school community
- Drawing plants and different parts of plants
- Drawing various animal life cycles
- Doing leaf and bark rubbings
- Creating habitat maps and displays based around these
- Making nature collages for different seasons
- Keeping a nature diary with recordings and drawings of plants and animals seen throughout the year
- Exploring and recording the different types of insects living in the new bug hotels and in existing areas of the school
- Monitoring and recording the birds using the bird feeders and in different habitats around the school
- Learning to identify different types of plants around the school
- Planting vegetables and flowers and learning to care for them and how they grow
- Discovering what parts of the world different plants and animals come from.
- Awareness of various types of habitats and ecosystems and what parts of the world they occur in. Learning about the possible threats to these habitats.
- Learning about how the keep our waterways including rivers, canals, lakes and oceans clean and how this affects biodiversity
Step 6: Informing and Involving
Several steps were taken to make sure that the entire school community including students, teachers and parents were aware of and involved with the steps being taken involving biodiversity in the school.
There is a regularly updated Green-Schools notice board as well as several nature displays around the school. Any news or events are included in the school newsletter and go onto the school website.
The school produced a “Biodiversity Information Booklet” which explained what biodiversity is, the importance of it as well as the threats to it. It also gives practical tips on how biodiversity can be conserved in the home or in school.
There are whole school assemblies every month and there is always time allotted to the Green-Schools committee to update the rest of the school on what they had learnt and organised about biodiversity. For example, the committee themed one assembly on trees and different members of the committee led the assembly on several topics. Some members taught the rest of the school how to identify trees and what trees there were in the school grounds, others talked about the importance of trees and how they help humans and the rest of the ecosystem and another group of committee members read out poems about trees. The assembly finished with the entire school singing a song about trees!
The wider community has also gotten involved. The school has linked up with a local community centre and students from a local college who have assisted with the maintenance of the garden and creation of several areas of the biodiversity garden.
Step 7: Green Code
This is the biodiversity green code for the school decided upon by the committee:
Biodiversity is so cool
Let’s work together in our school.
Flowers for the bees, birds in the trees.
Biodiversity, if you please!
I do believe we have the most amazing school grounds here and the children saw some of the birds and insects in all their glory this year. We had been taking it all for granted. They loved the bird watching.