Epworth School shares eco-experience

| March 26, 2013 | 1 Comment

By Joan Lindegger and Cynthia Dibben

Epworth School, in the heart of Scottsville in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, has been committed to making the world around it a better place for all since its inception 114 years ago.
Times have changed, and emphases too, but the motto Fida, Humana, Fortis (Faith, Compassion, Courage) still underscores our mission.

One of our core values is service to others, which includes taking care of the environment. In 2003, Epworth was one of 14 schools in South Africa that piloted the Eco-Schools programme.1We were awarded our International Flag for being an Eco-School in 2007 and, in 2012, we received a Diamond Decade award for 10 years as an Eco-School and a Platinum award for our Eco-School portfolio.

In this article, we would like to share some of our experience to assist schools that may be considering starting environmental care programmes.

Commit to recycling and nurturing indigenous species

Recycling is an excellent place for schools to start. Some time ago, we established a recycling depot to recycle paper, cardboard, newspaper, magazines, polystyrene, plastic and cans. In addition, each classroom, teaching space and office has been fitted with bins for recycled paper.

It’s not necessary for schools without resources to buy the most expensive bins available for recycling. As long as there are useable receptacles on hand and everyone knows where the ‘depot’ is, the whole school can benefit if everyone commits to the project principles. If bins are not monitored and emptied regularly, they can become unsightly. It is important to find a place where the bins can easily be accessed and still be aesthetically inoffensive. We have found the ‘traffic light’ approach to litter quite successful.

When litter is becoming a problem, we send out a ‘code red’ and the whole school is then required to pick up litter. The other traffic light colours are used as and when necessary. We plant and nurture only indigenous trees and plants on campus. Any plants that are listed in the Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act (CARA) legislation booklet2 have been systematically eradicated. Other schools may find our idea of roping in the entire community to eradicate noxious weeds, which germinate as a result of bird droppings, worth pursuing.

Useful ‘green’ ideas Schools wanting to adopt green habits can also take advantage of these ideas:

  • Create awareness in the immediate and wider communities about a range of environmental issues via a multiplicity of media.
  • Incorporate environmental activities – including field trips – into the curriculum.
  • Celebrate significant local, national and global ‘green’ calendar days. At Epworth, we ask specific teachers and pupils to adopt a particular day to celebrate and then to prepare a presentation about the significance of the day, which may include poetry, slide shows, singing and performance.
  • Invite motivational speakers to speak on environmentally related issues to students, staff, parents and community members.

Adopting a green theme is another way for schools to raise environmental awareness. Epworth’s choice one year was ‘Sustainable Living’. The Nature Club in the preparatory school decided to plant vegetables in raised beds outside the library. Compost made on campus and liquid fertiliser from our own worm farms helped germinate the seeds that children brought from home. There was great celebration when the produce was sold and it was decided that the proceeds should be used to buy more seedlings, bringing the project full circle.

Epworth’s indigenous tree labelling project

Schools can also foster stewardship in students by encouraging them to form clubs. An ongoing project of the Earth Active Club at Epworth is the identification and labelling of indigenous trees on campus. Students consulted various books and then asked a tree expert to verify their research. The trees were then plotted on a map. The next stage of the project was to source, order and have 30 labels printed. When they were received, the map was used to locate and ‘name’ the trees once more. A member of the Environmental Committee, who works at the Pietermaritzburg Parks Department, double-checked that the trees were indeed correctly labelled. An enormous amount has been learned in the process. The project is now a resource that will be used in many different ways, including class work in different learning areas. The long-term goals are to have every tree on campus labelled and to develop an interpretive trail through the Epworth property.

Collaborate with other schools

Once schools have a green project on the go, they could consider participating in or organising an interschools environmental quiz in their area, such as the one that Epworth coordinates annually for high schools in Pietermaritzburg. Schools enter teams and compete against one another in a friendly but competitive manner, and the top achievers are invited to participate in the WESSA National Enviro Quiz,3 which is held at the local university.

Greening our hostels

Rising utility costs mean that all schools will have to build sustainability into both facilities and budgets. A year-and-a-half ago, Epworth installed heat pumps in the hostels. The heat pumps replaced the old three-phase geysers and are far more efficient than conventional water-heating methods, having reduced electricity usage on geysers by at least 60%.

They also ensure that hot water is always available. A number of baths have been replaced with showers and water-saving heads have been fitted to the showers, which has resulted in a 50% reduction in the amount of water used in the hostels. We also bought water storage tanks to collect rainwater, and the intention is to situate these next to buildings in areas where there is great water need. This will supplement the water supply from the mains and thus save water and money. This is something that many schools could do.

Reflections

Having an Environmental Committee has made an enormous difference to what we have achieved. The committee meets once a term and members take ideas back to their respective part of the school. Such bodies are easy to set up and can help schools to set and achieve measurable goals.

It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the vastness of what environmental education could encompass. We have found that setting small achievable goals and trying to spread the load between as many people as possible to be workable solutions. Each person, after all, can surely commit to an hour a year to care for the environment. If teachers can see that what they could contribute is part of what they already do and not an extra to add to an already full load, there is more likely to be success and ‘buy-in’.

Becoming an Eco-School has helped Epworth to be more systematic in its approach to the environment and the community. It is certainly something worth giving time and energy to, as we all share in the future and the health of our planet.

Joan Lindegger and Cynthia Dibben teach at Epworth Coeducational Preparatory School.

References:

1. To learn more about the Eco-Schools programme, visit http://wessa.org.za/what-we-do/eco-schools.htm.

2. To learn more about CARA, visit www.dwaf.gov.za/wfw/Docs/Articles/CARA.doc.

3. To learn more about the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA), visit http://wessa.org.za/.

Category: Autumn 2013, Featured Articles

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  1. Paula Oosthuizen says:

    Thanks for the useful tips. It is indeed an overwhelming task to get people more environmentally aware and involved. Loved your tree-labelling & mapping idea!

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