St Olaf’s National School is a mixed primary school in Dublin. There are 25 staff and 495 students. They began working on the Biodiversity theme in 2017 and were awarded the Biodiversity Green Flag in May 2019. These are the steps the school took to achieve their flag.
Step 1: Green-Schools Committee
To begin the process of working towards the Green Flag for Biodiversity St Olaf’s first assembled their Green-Schools committee. There are two teachers on the committee. Students from third to sixth class were then invited to be selected for the committee by writing a letter explaining why they wanted to join, why the environment is important and what they could do to help the environment. Two students from each class were then chosen based on their letters.
The committee meets every fortnight. They assisted in creating the Action Plan for the school and have helped to promote work being done by different classes to the rest of the school community.
They are also responsible for making sure the steps taken to achieve previous the four previous Green Flags (Litter and Waste, Energy, Water and Travel) are still running smoothly within the school.
Step 2: Environmental Review
This is an important step to get an idea of the current situation in the school regarding biodiversity. Carrying out a review allowed the school to see what steps needed to be taken to improve upon their current situation. There were three parts to the review:
- A biodiversity awareness survey was carried out. This asked students and staff a few questions to discover what they already knew about biodiversity.
- Created a habitat map of the school grounds. This showed different parts of the school grounds, for example: yard, flower beds, trees, bike rack etc. This is helpful to show visually where biodiversity might already be and where it can be improved.
- Reviewing the previous four themes to see what links there were between these and biodiversity.
Step 3: Action Plan
The committee created an action plan which set out what tasks would be completed around the school and what classes or groups would be responsible for them.
There were lots of different steps taken to try to increase the biodiversity in and around the school’s grounds.
- The sixth classes made bird boxes and hung them up in the grounds of the school
- A bug hotel was built to attract different species of insects
- 15 clay bird feeders were made and placed around the school grounds
- A hedgehog home was made and placed in a suitable place outside
- A meadow area was established in part of the grounds where the grass was not cut, and wildflowers could grow
- Six Window boxes were planted
- A compost heap was established which could be used to help with the gardening
St Olaf’s got involved with The Great Plant Hunt project which allowed each class to learn about a selection of species of plants and animals through a variety of resources provided (all primary schools who are working on the Biodiversity theme are eligible to take part in this project). The school held an action day which allowed all the classes in the school to get involved in fun biodiversity activities and to see the changes that had been made in the grounds. Each class went on a habitat trail around the school and identified the different plants they could find. Younger classes completed art projects based on the nature they had seen outside. Older classes also held debates about climate change and biodiversity.
The school also had some nature experts visit classes within the school to teach them about different aspects of biodiversity. These included:
- A talk on birds and a bird watching session in the school grounds
- A speaker on native plants and the importance of worms.
Step 4: Monitoring and Evaluation
The school used various methods to keep track of the changes made throughout the two-year cycle. One important method was carrying out the same biodiversity awareness survey at the end of the programme which had been carried out initially. There were huge strides made by participants in terms of their awareness and knowledge of biodiversity. See chart:
A second habitat map was made of the school grounds in year two to track the changes made and to note the increase in areas of biodiversity.
The school also informally noticed an increase in robins in their grounds as well as the common frog.
Additionally, the school continued to monitor the changes brought in during the previous four themes to ensure they were being kept up throughout the school. They allocated responsibility for each of these four themes to a different year group who produced educational materials and posters for the rest of the school community. Other practical measures taken include:
- Litter and Waste: Compost bins were introduced to the staff room. Litter wardens from third class collect any litter from the school yard each day.
- Energy: Lights and sirens are being monitored to make sure they are turned off. Energy saving checklists are being used.
- Water: Pupils have learned about different water habitats. Leak detectives check the taps for leaks.
- Travel: Launch of “Fitness Friday” (aka “Walk on Wednesday”) which encourages sustainable travel to and from school.
Step 5: Curriculum Work
St Olaf’s found that the biodiversity theme fit in naturally with lots of topics covered within the existing curriculum. Teachers were able to bring in biodiversity under the following subjects:
- Science: Learning about the lifecycles of different types of animals including butterflies, ladybirds and snails. Learning about the different parts of a plant.
- History: Discovering the loss of habitats and species over time.
- Geography: Mapping the school grounds.
- Art: Making posters, displays and slogans.
- P.H.E.: Developing a sense of individual and community responsibility for the environment. Learning to care for the natural world and becoming custodians for future generations.
Step 6: Involving and Informing
St Olaf’s carried out this programme in a way that included the entire school and allowed everyone to get involved.
- There is a Green-Schools notice board which is regularly updated and on display in a prominent position in the school. The committee updates each class within the school about any upcoming events, activities or news
- Assemblies were used to pass on information to the entire school community and the school newsletter was used to communicate the Green-Schools news to parents
- The Biodiversity theme also allowed the school to get involved with the local community. The Green-Schools committee liaised with the local residents association with regards to litter picking in the community and information about “tidy communities”
Step 7: Green Code
St Olaf’s made a Green Code for their school:
We have a dream
To keep the world green
So let’s act fast
And make Biodiversity last
The whole school community has really enjoyed working on this programme. Creating an awareness about Biodiversity and learning about the variety of all life forms on this earth and their habitat has really interested and engaged both staff and pupils. Discovering all the species and habitats that are already in our school grounds and exploring how we can create more habitats to encourage more species has been really interesting and exciting. The programme has fostered in the children a respect and appreciation of all living things and their environments and has enabled them to become active agents in the conservation of the environment for future generations.