Save the Frog Day: the ecoprogramme at Cowan House

| June 17, 2015 | 0 Comments

By Sally Evans

With a property situated alongside the Winterskloof natural rainforest in Hilton in KwaZulu-Natal, it is no wonder that Cowan House Co-educational Preparatory School students can experience worms, wood owls and a wetland in one day – as well as frogs.

The wetland is at the edge of the 10 hectare school property, and we have been part of its rehabilitation since 2012. It has not been an easy task – alien plants have choked the area, and the water, when it first emerged, was brackish and slimy! No frogs existed.

When Cowan House joined the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) Eco-Schools1 programme in 2010, we adopted recycling as our primary focus. With the support of Wildlands Conservation Trust,2 a recycling village was established in our community. Six years later, it runs effectively, with children encouraging parents to separate plastic from polystyrene!

Natural ‘greenies’

An eco-committee was formed at the school in 2011, and included two passionate mums, who called themselves the ‘Green Mambas’. They and their team of ‘greenies’ committed themselves to the Eco-Schools programme and made sure that the school curriculum incorporated the five focus areas necessary for the school to achieve International Flag status: healthy living; resource use; local and global issues; community and heritage; and nature and biodiversity. On the edge of our property was a wetland, and our eco-team began to investigate…

Over six years, an ‘eco vibe’ has infiltrated the school, just like the wetland. It has seeped into our lessons, into our vocabulary, into our day – and the joy of it is that our children are natural ‘greenies’.

You may get ‘caught green-handed’ at Cowan House. Our eco-monitors and teachers are out with their cameras! Recently, four Grade 3 children were snapped taking large, spiky caterpillars to show our principal, Rob Odell. He was as delighted as they were!

Friendly frogs

Whole school involvement is a natural progression.

Grade RRR/R has adopted daily recycling in their creative area with box-construction art activities. Taking care of God’s creatures – finding snails and ladybirds, and learning to put them back gently in their homes – is part of the art.

Grade 1 children have taken on veggies and herbs as their project. The enthusiasm has already spread into the girls’ boarding area, where fresh mint is sprouting.

Frogs leaped into the Grade 2’s hearts, and a Frog Evening was held to mark Save the Frog Day.3The children and their families visited the Cowan House wetland after dark, adorned with torches on their foreheads. There they benefited from the expertise of WESSA’s Charlene Russell, who spoke about frogs and wetlands, following which the Grade 2 children observed the crepuscular habits of these amphibians. Custodianship of ‘all creatures great and small’ naturally falls into the Grade 2 children’s hands.

Out with the aliens

Grade 3 teachers and children have always been particularly aware of the encroachment of alien plants in the local Winterskloof area. In rehabilitating our wetland, we have been made aware of the importance of involving the whole community. With the help of the Winterskloof Conservancy’s ‘Green Bobbies’, alien plants were removed from the area last year, which has had a positive effect on the neighbouring Doreen Clark Nature Reserve.

Grade 4 gets involved in heritage, biodiversity, resource use and other local and global conservancy issues. This year, Grade 4 custodianship is allied to ‘all plants, great and small’. Indigenous trees have been planted over the last few years around the wetland area. Grade 4 teachers and children have watched the change of the wetland, the increasing clarity of the water, and the growth of wetland plants and creatures. In a recent practical lesson, the Grade 4 children built a wetland using an empty plastic two-litre cooldrink bottle to demonstrate how a wetland retains, filters and cleans water. The pupils thoroughly enjoyed this exercise and learnt much from it. Another highlight of the Grade 4 year is their puppet show, where children make puppets from recycled materials.

Supporting and supervising

The Teddy Bears’ Picnic is synonymous with the Grade 5 outreach programme at crèches in the local community of Sweetwaters. Knitting is a skill that Grade 5 children have been sharing with their Sweetwaters ‘buddies’ for over two years. Grade 5 also won the inter class recycling competition last year. These young students are natural caretakers of ‘the community’, with the rewarding result that two of our partner schools have been awarded their Eco-Schools flags.

Grade 6 eco-monitors supervise the school. They meet with the eco-committee regularly and monitor the recycling area, the collection of recyclable white paper from classrooms, the eco display board and electricity/water usage around the school. Teachers who waste electricity get ‘zapped’. Anyone wasting water gets a reminder to ‘save every drop’.

A welcome to clean wetland water

Water scarcity is a global issue. We are being hard hit by water shortages, along with power outages. Two years ago, Cowan House installed heat pumps, which are used for heating the school swimming pool as well as for heating and cooling the boarding houses and classrooms. We have already saved a significant amount of electricity. Eco-friendly LED lighting in the classrooms, although expensive in the initial outlay, will pay off. Grade 7 children watch our water. Handmade posters bearing the taglines ‘Tap into it’, ‘Every drop counts’, ‘Sharing is caring’ and ‘Put a plug in it’ feature on the front wall of our school.

Gradually the water filtering from natural springs in our Winterskloof highland is becoming clear, thanks to the rehabilitation work in the wetland. It has been hard work, and there is still a lot to be done. But the frogs are back, and celebrating!

References:
1. See: http://wessa.org.za/what-we-do/eco-schools.htm.
2. See: http://www.wildlands.co.za/wildands-conservation-trust/.
3. See: http://www.savethefrogs.com/day/.

Category: Winter 2015

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